SFX/MetaLib Users Group
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Possible new ways of sharing the creation and distribution of new MetaLib KnowledgeBase entriesAndre Keyzer (Groningen University), Marco Streefkerk (University of Amsterdam), Bas Vat (University of Leiden), Repke de Vries (National Library of the Netherlands) representing the Dutch Metalib-SFX consortium
Version 2 (after first open discussion during the SMUG meeting in Vienna); November 12th 2003
The Metalib library portal stores information about available resources in a data repository called the KnowledgeBase. It holds two types of information on a resource: descriptive and functional. Descriptive information helps Metalib users locate relevant resources. Functional information details all the technical rules for querying a resource and for standardized display of query results (including OpenURL). These rules then drive the software of the portal ?behind the scenes?. Importing and exporting functionality is available for KnowledgeBase information exchange with other Metalib installations worldwide. With unified access to resources the main goal of a library portal, an adequate KnowledgeBase becomes crucial. New Metalib installations therefore come with a pre-existing set of resources, created by Ex Libris and subsequently updated and added to from their Central KnowledgeBase (CKB). It tries to cover a wide range of popular resources and though candidates for new additions can be suggested to Ex Libris and these suggestions are also activily asked for, a real voting mechanism for new additions is not in place. Instead Ex Libris it self tries to determine the global or regional importance of a resource. Once part of the CKB updating is guaranteed, for example in case adjustments to the querying rules are needed. Given the Importing and Exporting facilities, over time Metalib portal implementers themselves have started initiatives for sharing KnowledgeBase entries. SMUG, AARLIN and the UK Metalib UserGroup have repositories on their website to add to and take from, ad hoc arrangements will no doubt exist and the Dutch Metalib-SFX consortium [9 academic libraries and the national library] has a growing practice of joint development and testing. From our Dutch experience we would like to start a SMUG discussion on possible new ways of sharing the creation and distribution of new Metalib KnowledgeBase entries.
Issues and proposals
Issue number 1: Functional requirements for tools to make configuration easier
The easier it is to especially get the technical access rules right (as mentioned above under ?functional description? of a resource), the lesser development time is spent and the bigger the chance that one wants to share. Heavy investments psychologically run counter to ?just giving it away to anybody?. Adequate tools however are not yet sufficiently available, though Ex Libris has planned a redesign of the Metalib/M package for the end of 2004. This offers a major opportunity for improving the usability and adding new tools (testing, monitoring and support of SRU and HTTP have already been mentioned). In the meantime good suggestions may be included in the present MetaLib/M version.
Actions: Repke de Vries of the National Library of the Netherlands en Stefan Lohrum of the KOBV have volunteered to put together a wish list for new tools along with basic functional specifications for discussion within SMUG. Such a list then will be discussed with Ex Libris.
Issue number 2: Quality Criteria or Best Practice survey
To make optimal use of configuration efforts (either done by Ex Libris, a database vendor or individual institutions) the configuration should be as good as possible, a criterium difficult to define. In the Dutch consortium for example questions came up about the ?best way? to deal with query formulation. Author name searching a point in case. Of course different approaches will always exist but it should be possible to put down some kind of standard that we can all agree on. Maybe a multilevel approach, describing criteria for basic and advanced configuration could be useful. Home improvement AGTile answers.
Working by a standard will minimize internal discussions with end users or library staff about the workings of a resource. Obviously it would also help sharing and acceptance of resources developed elsewhere, if we had some existing standard to refer to, instead of creating our own solution. Ex Libris in this respect already uses its own set of quality criteria. A testing document is available that could be used as reference for the quality of configurations; it is an Ex Libris guarantee that all resources in the CKB adhere to their documented Cataloging Standard and to the MetaLib Standard Search Syntax. Outside the MetaLib community standards for searching (Bath profile) and presentation (AACR2) exist as well and are in use by information providers.
Action: The Dutch Consortium will do a survey among MetaLib implementers through SMUG on best practises used and try a first comparison with both the Ex Libris quality criteria and some international standards. Outcome should be suggestions for improvement of quality control. As a second action point are all MetaLib implementers encouraged to share within the MetaLib community their quality judgements on configurations in the Central KnowledgeBase. SMUG could be a platform to bring this feedback to Ex Libris.
Issue number 3: standard to document resource configurations
Even after further work on quality criteria and best practices setting up new KnowledgeBase entries, resources will never be configured hundred percent according to standard. There are always exceptions, for instance because the resource does not allow for certain settings. Beside that, setting up configurations always involves choices to be made. Therefore when configurations should be maintained by different people within one organisation or when configurations will be shared it is crucial that information about such choices and exceptions is available alongside the configuration itself.
At present Ex Libris uses some IRD fields of the resource for documentation. It is also known however that several institutions and consortia use there own documentation systems. This could be an indication of a need for for more such facilities within Metalib.
Action: within SMUG the Dutch consortium will initiate a discussion on additional documentation after circulating among the MetaLib community existing examples, including its own standard for documentation. The result of this discussion will be shared with Ex Libris with separate documentation for each configuration as a possibly better option. In the meantime all MetaLib implementers are encouraged to report through SMUG on any bit of information on specific configurations they feel either lacking or adequately covered within the fields Ex Libris presently uses.
Issue 4: distribution model
Once created, new KnowledgeBase entries should have a way to access or distribute them and a mechanism should be in place for keeping the configurations up to date. The need for this is felt at different levels: local versus consortium versus regional versus global: both in creation and in distribution and commenting. To facilitate this already KnowledgeBases at different levels exist as well as mechanisms to exchange data between them. There are a lot of issues at stake here. To include a locally build configuration into the CKB is an option for distribution but also raises the commercial value of the Ex Libris product. Also institutions often want to localise some parts of the configuration while still keeping other parts updated through a [C]KB at a higher level.
Then there is the question of unfinished work on new resources: other implementers should be aware to avoid double work or to learn from what already has become known on a resource. In conclusion: sharing asks for a very flexible, open and communicative model.
This issue is rather complex and during the SMUG meeting in Vienna noreal ideas to work on surfaced. Maybe the first thing to be looked at is the OAI model where storage and access is local and only some simple metadata on a resource are harvested and made available at for example the SMUG site. This repository could and maybe even should allow for entrees of non-Metalib configurations.
One other concrete action possible is to organise a survey on distribution models presently used within consortia or regional portal projects. With Ex Libris discussion can be opened on how their closed CKB model (which is part of the commercial value of Metalib as library portal product) can relate to the open and semi-open models of sharing. All models have to consider shared communication and feedback.
It should be stressed again that any sharing should rest on adequate documentation as discussed under issue 3. For this documentation the Dutch experience is that descriptive information of a resource is of lesser importance, although this might be different with e-journals. The key issue is the functional information and all its related pre analysis, implementation decisions and testing.
Action: As follow up to SMUG Vienna no further action towards this issue has yet been initiated, but definitely any one interested could take this matter up in between the previous and one of the coming SMUG meetings.
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