Reaching the Crossroads of Two Lists for Periodicals Holdings

By Coombs, Karen A. | Computers in Libraries, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Reaching the Crossroads of Two Lists for Periodicals Holdings


Coombs, Karen A., Computers in Libraries


As the information technology and instruction librarian at SUNY-Cortland, I am responsible for designing, developing, and maintaining the library's Web site. One important part of it is our static Web-based list of our local periodical holdings. This list is mission-critical for us because we have no periodical holdings information in our OPAC. The situation is a legacy from our previous OPAC and is currently being remedied. However, adding our holdings is a time-consuming process that is still ongoing.

Additionally, last spring, the librarians were struggling with how to incorporate our full-text access into our overall list of holdings. Full-text access to resources is obtained in many ways: as an electronic-only subscription, as an add-on to a print subscription, or as "incidental" access provided via a subscription database such as Gale's Expanded Academic. Some libraries have chosen to catalog all of the electronic versions of their periodicals. However, others have chosen only to catalog those resources to which they specifically subscribe. This is because "incidental" full-text coverage for databases such as Expanded Academic changes on a regular basis, creating a maintenance nightmare.

To deal with this problem, we began subscribing to a product called Serials Solutions (http://www.serialssolutions.com) in order to maintain an up-to-date list of our full-text resources. Before Serials Solutions, we had no coherent way to know if we had electronic access to a particular magazine or journal. However, the Serials Solutions data is completely separate from our local print/microform periodicals holdings list.

As a result, we had two separate holdings lists: one for the local holdings and one for the full-text holdings. To make matters worse, neither of these lists was "searchable." Users needed to browse through the two different alphabetical lists to locate a particular magazine or journal. Needless to say, this was extremely confusing and frustrating for our patrons.

Therefore, I decided to attempt to consolidate these lists and make them searchable. This was meant to be a temporary solution while our periodical holdings were being put into the OPAC. The goal of this project was to create a single interface that would allow users to search all of our holdings (electronic, print, or microform) for a particular magazine or journal. Here's how I did it with XML.

Using XML as a Vehicle

There were many reasons why I considered using XML to display the periodical information on the library's Web site. First, I believed that I could get both lists in XML format. I received an XML report of the library's full-text holdings from Serials Solutions, and the Access database where our physical periodical holdings were could be exported as XML. Second, I wanted to be able to have flexibility in how the data was displayed on the Web. I have learned in my 3 years as library Web-master that I often have to reformat the way information is presented. I typically reuse the content and display it in a variety of ways on different pages or slightly tweak the look of a given page based on feedback from library staff and users. With XML, the content and the presentation are completely separated from one another, allowing the format to be completely altered easily. This precept also holds true for database-driven Web pages (which I also considered as an initial solution to the project).

At the start of this project, I considered importing the XML data into an Access database and displaying it to the Web using database-driven pages. Several of my SUNY colleagues have taken this approach. However, I abandoned this idea for two reasons. First, bimonthly, when I received an updated report, I would have had to re-import the electronic periodicals information and attempt to merge it with our local information. Second, upon initial testing, the importing process did not go smoothly. …

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