Icons Add Interest to Your Web Design

If you didn’t notice it, there’s a new OPAC (that’s a snazzy library acronym for Online Public Access Catalog), or catalog, for the IU Libraries.  It’s called New IUCAT, and it can be accessed here.  I hope you’ll use it, as it’s decidedly more user-friendly than the classic IUCAT, and it’s got lots of nifty graphics.  Actually, that’s what this post is about.  One of my minor, though unexpectedly overwhelming, tasks regarding this migration to a new catalog is to try to find some icons to represent the various media formats available in the Libraries’ collections.  When you search New IUCAT, you have the ability to limit your search to certain formats.  There’s certainly a lot of stuff in these here libraries!  See:

format icons

“What the heck,” you might ask, “is ‘realia’?”  Well, it’s games, mostly.  If, for instance, an IU library circulates Bananagrams (a game I killed at back home over winter break, by the way), they are cataloged as realia, and are represented by a little icon of . . . um . . . something.   Other icons are clearer, though, and reveal to the youngest of IU Libraries users what, for instance, the ancient artifact called a videocassette looks like.

At this time, I’m still looking high and low for icons for streaming video and floppy disks. It’s, as I said, overwhelming trying to find just the right icon.  I’ve been scouring the Internet for open-source, royalty-free icon sets to fill in the format gaps.  There are plenty available for purchase, too, but with so many creative people offering the use of their (oftentimes pretty incredibly awesome) designs for free, there’s not much need to cough up cash if you’re after something cool.

For instance, I came across several sites that aggregate these widely and freely available designs, often with lists compiling the most “amazing” and “excellent” sets one can find on the Web.  If you’re interested, here’s a particularly good collection, rounded up by Naldz Graphics.

Icons are a great way for web designers to add character to their content, to establish a tone, to craft a personality for their site that just might set it apart from the competition.  They’re also a nice way to add some flair to your desktop if, say, the Indiana winter’s gotten you down and you’ve been spending more time staring at your computer screen than you’d like.  Take a look at these familiar icons, with a twist:

web20rigami
http://blog.iampaddy.com/2008/11/12/web-20rigami/
http://7ur.deviantart.com/art/iConPack-now-with-psd-53066224
http://7ur.deviantart.com/art/iConPack-now-with-psd-53066224

Of course, you must be careful when downloading any files to your computer.  Make sure you are downloading from a reputable site, scanning for viruses, etc.  And always read the fine print.  Just because an icon set is ostensibly free doesn’t necessarily mean its creator does not require some sort of attribution for its use.  Be careful and courteous out there, and have fun.  And also let me know if you find a really neato icon for a floppy disk!

Blacklight and Stemming

With the coming transition of the IUCAT public interface from the existing SIRSIDynix OPAC to the new Blacklight discovery layer there are a lot of exciting new features coming our way. Some examples include faceted searching, better results, an easier to use interface. Along with the change in the interface, we will see changes in how search works. One of these changes relates to truncation and word stemming.

Truncation is the ability to expand a keyword search to retrieve multiple forms of a word by using a specified symbol to replace a character or set of characters. The truncation symbol can typically be used anywhere within a word: at the end, beginning, or within a term. For example in the current IUCat a search for comput$ would find words such as:  computer, computers, computing, and computation. Truncation is a handy tool that can help bring back a lot of different results and it is a common search feature in most traditional OPACs and in many vendor databases. Blacklight, like other discovery layer interfaces such as VuFind, relies on a technique called word stemming rather than on truncation.

Word Stemming is when the catalog searches for the “root” of a word and displays all words with that stem. Rather than relying on the searcher to place a specific character to expand the search as in truncation, the use of word stemming initiates an automatic search for the “root” of a search term, then returns results with all words associated with that stem. This is similar to how Google searches, so users who use Google a lot won’t notice much of a difference.

Because this is an automatic process, oftentimes it is difficult or impossible to know or predict the “stem” terms for any particular word. For example, knees has a stem of knee, but kneel has a stem of kneel not knee. Another example of stemming is when you type the word “searching” or “search” or “searches” you’ll find they all stem to “search”. But “searcher” does not; it stems to “searcher”.

For searchers who are accustomed to truncation, there may be similar terms that would have been retrieved using truncation, but which will not be retrieved using word stemming because they do not share the same stem.

For many of our users, this change will not be apparent, but we hope this is a helpful explanation of this change for expert searchers accustomed to relying on truncation.

Music to our eyes: special considerations for discovery

We’ve written a bit about in this blog about discovery, and specifically about Blacklight, which will be implemented as a new interface for IUCAT next summer. One particularly interesting possibility opened up by discovery interfaces like Blacklight is the ability to create customized search views based on a variety of criteria – by format (like music, or film & video), or location (a specific campus), to name just two.

You can see an example of this in action at UVA – they have both a music view and a video view. In the music search, users have the ability to limit using both the standard facets, like language, and by facets specific to the subset of materials, like instrument – as illustrated below.

 As you might imagine, with the ability to provide customized search interfaces come many important decisions about what data to index and display, and how to best to do so to fully optimize discovery.  Our colleagues in the Cook Music Library & the Digital Library Program have been engaging with these questions for some time through the Variations/FRBR project, one deliverable of which – the Scherzo search interface – is powered by Blacklight.

Last week, a subgroup of the Emerging Technologies committee of the Music Library Association released a draft document on Music Discovery Requirements, which can be found at http://musicdiscoveryrequirements.blogspot.com/ – they are inviting public comment on the document through December 5th, and anticipate releasing a second draft early in the new year.

I hope those of you with expertise in this area will review and comment on the draft document, and we also invite comments and questions on the topic of optimizing discovery of music records here.

More about Blacklight, the new interface for IUCAT

Since the last post about Blacklight, we’ve been asked a lot of questions about Blacklight and its development in IU Libraries. Those of you who missed reading it might want to check here. This post will focus on some of the questions that we have been asked most frequently.

What sorts of changes will there be in the new IUCAT?

People involved in the development phase are working hard to insure that a new discovery interface not only retains the functionality of IUCAT currently available, but also delivers improved functionality.

Most next generation type catalogs have a simplified search box, which is easy and quick to use for users with a simple question. Blacklight provides a simple format for the basic search and facet structure for limiting searches.

The generic Blacklight interface is customized according to the library’s individual needs and specific environments. Here are some examples that adopt Blacklight’s basic format.

  • University of Wisconsin – Madison

  • Stanford University

  • University of Virginia

  • Johns Hopkins University

The new IUCAT will have a single search box for the basic search, and faceted searching on the left side will allow users to constrain searches by controlled vocabulary items. There will also be an advanced search screen for more focused searches.  As the development is still in progress, your comments and ideas will be highly appreciated.

How do Apache Solr and Ruby on Rails work to index library resources?

Blacklight’s two fundamental technologies are the Solr search server and the Ruby on Rails web application framework. Developed by the Apache Lucene project, Apache Solr is used for indexing and searching records, while Ruby on Rails is used to create the front end. Here is a nice graphic representation of the Blacklight system.

Sadler, B. (2009). “Blacklight Infrastructure.” In Project Blacklight: a next generation library catalog at a first generation  university. Library Hi Tech, 27(1), 57 – 67.

A java-based program SolrMARC reads, indexes, and exports library’s MARC records to Solr and custom Ruby scripts are used for non-MARC items to map document metadata to Solr. The Ruby on Rails application looks to the Solr server for its data, passes search queries, and formats search results.

If you are interested in what others are doing in Blacklight, you can ask a question on the Blacklight mailing list and see its codebase at GitHub.

A new interface for IUCAT: Blacklight

As you may have heard, work has begun on a new interface for IUCAT. The IU Libraries OLE Discovery Layer Implementation Task Force (DLITF) will be overseeing the implementation of a new discovery layer, powered by Blacklight, to overlay our current SirsiDynix system. Development work is going on during this fall semester and a public Beta will be launched in spring 2012. This is a good time to share some background information around the new discovery interface, Blacklight.

What is Blacklight?

Blacklight is a free and open source OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) solution developed at the University of Virginia (UVA) Library; check the project site for detailed information. While some OSS (Open Source Software) systems, such as Evergreen and Koha, were developed to replace a library’s entire ILS (Integrated Library System), Blacklight has been designed to work with a library’s current ILS to assist in reengineering the library’s searching tools.  It uses Apache Solr for indexing and searching records and Ruby on Rails for its front end.

What are some of the features?

Blacklight features faceted browsing, relevance based searching, bookmarkable items, permanent URLs for every item, and user tagging of items. As it is capable of searching both catalog records and digital repository objects, digitized images or repositories become more discoverable for users.  Unlike MARC records, which use similar templates for different types of objects, the use of Ruby on Rails allows librarians to define behaviors that are specific to certain kind of objects.

Where can we see examples?

The Task Force will begin soliciting feedback on the local beta implementation in the near future, but in the meantime, if you would like to see more, there are other mature installations of blacklight you may review. The University of Virginia, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, and WGBH are the principal contributors to the code base. There are dozens of sites worldwide and here are some of heavy users:

If you have questions about the task force or the project, feel free to contact us!

Additional reading:

Sadler, B. (2009). Project Blacklight: a next generation library catalog at a first generation  university. Library Hi Tech, 27(1), 57 – 67. Access the full text.

Sadler, B., Gilbert, J., & Mitchell, M. (2009). Library catalog mashup: using Blacklight to expose collections. In Engard, N. C. (Ed.) Library mashups : exploring new ways to deliver library data. Medford, N.J. : Information Today, Inc. Access the record in WorldCat.org.