Discovery Layer Online Catalog

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Last updated September 27, 2014.

From its inception, Kuali OLE decided NOT to include an online catalog module in its design, due to the wide availability of several open source interfaces such as Blacklight and VuFind, two of the most popular. It was assumed that Kuali OLE would support any necessary protocols to allow for connectivity and the ability for users to access “my account”-type features (e.g., items checked out, renewals, lists of requested items, updating addresses, etc.).

So beginning in 2011, the Library began a technical evaluation of possible user interfaces as well as initiating an assessment of user requirements.

Under the leadership of Tod Olson, Systems Librarian, Library systems staff did an investigation of Solr based on the open source systems Blacklight and VuFind to assess the technical feasibility of implementing one of these systems with a Kuali OLE-type database. In January 2012, this produced the Solr Catalog Technical Report (see http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/staffweb/groups/disctools/index.html). To quote the summary findings:

  • Implementation language (user interface level). Blacklight is a Ruby on Rails application. We have no local experience with this platform, and there is a significant learning curve. VuFind is a PHP application, the Library has in-house experience with PHP and there is a lot of support on campus for PHP.
  • VuFind has more of our critical features out of the box, notably browse indexes (title, author, subject, and call no.), a built-in architecture for integrating live circulation data, and a built-in authentication framework. Blacklight is working to close this gap, but currently Blacklight supplies fewer needed features than VuFind.

While either platform would be suitable for building our public front-end for Kuali OLE, VuFind appears to be the better match for the Library. VuFind is the recommended platform.

Note that the recommendation was not so much to implement VuFind as is, but to use it as a platform to develop a user interface for Kuali OLE and replace both HIP and Lens.

Meanwhile, a group of library staff was appointed to collect information from users about their needs and desires for an ideal user interface. Following the agile development concept of collecting user stories, the Library did just that with a series of activities involving a cross-section of Library users. Findings were published in a report (see http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/staffweb/groups/cus/). A quote from the full report describes the methodology:

…With the User Stories method, investigators seek to solicit statements of user need. These stories are typically written in plain, rather than technical, language. Stories are constructed so as to avoid complex or interdependent requirements. Stories do not specify a particular solution, but rather they seek simply to describe the need.

The project team began by reviewing existing sources of data to identify user stories. Sources reviewed include comments from multiple LibQual and Library surveys, user email comments in Knowledge Tracker and Bugzilla, requirements documents from Lens development and from a requirements list developed by Stanford, and from prior usability studies. Approximately one hundred unique stories were drawn from these sources. These stories were categorized, and they informed the design of interview questions and research instruments that were used in subsequent data collection.

Beyond the mining of existing data sources, the project team used several methods to collect data specifically for this study. Library staff conducted twenty individual and group interview sessions, involving a total of twenty-seven participants. Seven interviews were conducted by bibliographers, who recruited faculty from contacts. The remaining interviews were conducted with students from a variety of disciplines and programs, and with one College graduate working as a clinical researcher. These participants were recruited using ads on the UChicago Marketplace site, and on the Library web site, and the Library offered a $15 Amazon.com gift card as an incentive.

Taking these two reports together led the Library to select VuFind as its new “front end” with Kuali OLE as the back end to replace both HIP and Lens. It was decided to introduce VuFind as a “beta test” to library users in early 2014 using the Horizon database. User feedback would be used to fine tune the product. In the meantime, VuFind would be tested against Kuali OLE to ensure that once the latter went into production, VuFind would work with it. Since they would already be familiar with VuFind, library users would not even notice the switch on the “back end” and Library systems staff would have some breathing room between implementing Kuali OLE and implementing VuFind.