After a little more than two years, the IUCAT Beta project is gearing up for its final phase – making the transition to becoming the primary user interface for our shared statewide online catalog. We thought it might be a good time to take a look back to the beginnings of the project to refresh ourselves on the big questions …
Wait, why are we doing this again?
In recent years, users expressed their dissatisfaction with the current library catalog interface; feedback came from a variety of sources ranging from focus groups, a 2008 LIBQUAL study, annual UITS surveys, and through other channels of communication such as comments made to librarians and staff via email or telephone, at reference and public services desks or as casual mentions. In response to this, IU Libraries made a commitment to improving the overall user experience in the catalog.
A second reason relates to the impending adoption of Kuali OLE – which, though an enterprise system which manages library business processes (such as acquisitions, cataloging, or circulation), does not include a front-end interface. Why no OPAC in OLE? OLE partner libraries will be free to select a user interface or discovery product that best meets their needs – and we all need not agree on just one set of features or vendor. Some OLE partners have, like us, adopted open source products like Blacklight or VuFind while others have gone with vended solutions such as Summon.
The Indiana University Libraries Discovery Layer Task Force reviewed both VuFind and Blacklight, evaluating them against a rubric of desired functionality for a catalog discovery layer. (Greene et al. 2011) We had lofty dreams: a product with a more robust ability to search, browse and manipulate catalog data, capable of providing access to the diversity of our collections (including those with non-MARC metadata) with an interface comparable to those now common in widely-used commercial products. We also had pragmatic goals: finding a product that would support discovery in the most basic of senses, that is, the ability to reliably retrieve information (like a known title) from the catalog, as well as provide the ability for advanced users to conduct more complex searches, and – last but not least – allow all of us to finally just use the back button.
Ultimately, the task force recommended Blacklight which, though comparable in many ways with VuFind, seemed to offer better promise for flexibility going forward, a crucial characteristic for “one university with eight front doors,” dozens of libraries, hundreds of collections, and thousands of user groups each with their own priorities and needs.
Since then, librarians across the state have been working with each other and with UITS colleagues to implement Blacklight, steadily customizing it to be the new IUCAT.