Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Developign Eureka: Rapid Access to Very Large Databases

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Developign Eureka: Rapid Access to Very Large Databases

Article excerpt

As RLG's first foray into end-user searching, Eureka's design draws on extensive study of online catalog practices and on advice from librarians and feedback from users. The service was designed so that untrained users without printed documentation could successfully search a database of more than twenty million titles within three minutes of first encountering the system. The process of designing and developing Eureka offers some lessons for others planning systems for better end user access.

* Introduction

Eureka, RLG's patron-oriented search service, is a convenient way for libraries to provide campuswide or library-wide access to a huge secondary "online union catalog" and article citation databases. As RLG's first foray into end-user searching, its design draws on extensive study of online catalog practices and problems, as well as on advice from librarians and feedback from users. Our goal was to create a system that most users can search successfully within three minutes of first encounter, with no printed documentation or advance training.

The process used in designing and developing Eureka offers a number of lessons for others planning systems to provide better end-user access. As one of few search systems designed from the beginning for use with--and tested almost exclusively with--very large databases, Eureka shows the advantages of knowing limits and using iterative development.

* Defining the Need

The RLG bibliographic database, commonly referred to as RLIN (the Research Libraries Information Network), has grown to be one of the two largest components of the de facto national bibliographic system. Of the more than 24.5 million titles (as of early 1995), many represent resources to be found nowhere else but at the holding institution--including hundreds of thousands of archival and manuscript records, a massive database of pre-LP sound recordings, cataloging from the United Nations library, and many others.

RLG needed a way to make this database available to end-users worldwide. RLG's members also called on the organization to expand its specialized article-level databases and add document delivery options, creating CitaDel. For both CitaDel and the RLIN database, RLG's traditional integrated technical processing system (RLIN/ITPS) offered sophisticated, flexible search capabilities but little online help, no forgiveness, no labeled displays, and generally little to make the database's richness meaningful to untrained library users.

Additionally, we were aware that a growing number of libraries and campuses had widespread access to library resources over computer networks, and that in many cases those networks could go beyond the library to the Internet. We saw real potential for enriching library services by making CitaDel and the RLIN database part of that next step. While RLIN had been available for searching on the Internet since 1989, the new service would be oriented to the end user.

Database Size and Content

The primary RLIN database consists of eight files: books, serials, printed musical scores, sound recordings, maps, visual materials, computer files, and archival materials. In all, those files--treated as the single "BIB" file within Eureka--contained more than twenty-one million titles and more than sixty million records when work began on Eureka in 1992. (RLIN databases hold each library's own version of a cataloging record, with records clustered automatically into edition-level groups.) The database grows rapidly; as of early 1995, more than eighty million records represent more than 24.5 million titles and editions.

RLG has had some specialized databases for years, including the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals and the English Short Title Catalog (originally the Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue). As Eureka was being designed and developed, additional article-level files were procured. …

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