Magazine article Information Today

Free-for-Alls

Magazine article Information Today

Free-for-Alls

Article excerpt

No matter which baseball teams end up making it into the division playoffs and World Series, you know that at some critical, game-on-the-line point, one play will end up in a bench-clearing brawl.

From Little League to the pro arena, free-for-alls generally don't turn out well. Players and coaches may get tossed or a player could get hurt and end up out of commission for the year. However, in the information world, free-for-alls have a much better connotation. This month's articles from the October issues of Computers in Libraries, The CyberSkeptic's Guide to Internet Research, and Searcher each pitch a different facet of an Internet-based free-for-all.

The OPAC Ball Game

Looking for an alternative to traditional OPAC backup methods? Then read "Fac-Back-OPAC: An Open Source Interface to Your Library System" (CIL, pp. 6-8, 53-54, 56), by Mike Beccaria and Dan Scott.

Scott, the systems librarian at Laurentian University (Ontario, Canada), was looking for a backup catalog to provide stability to the college's proprietary library system catalog. While attending the code4lib 2007 conference, he learned about the open source server Solr at a workshop presentation by Casey Durfee (Open Source Endeca in 250 Lines or Less). When Scott approached Durfee about his source code, he received permission to release it under an open source license as Fac-Back-OPAC.

Beccaria, the systems librarian at Paul Smith's College (New York), also attended the workshop. His library was dealing with issues surrounding most traditional OPACS: lack of customization, poor relevancy-ranking algorithms, and findability and browsability that did not live up to end-user expectations. Within a week of the conference, Beccaria had a fully customizable OPAC with faceted navigation, courtesy of Durfee's demo source code. When Beccaria learned about Fac-Back-OPAC, he signed up to work on the project, integrating some of his own enhancements.

Fac-Back OPAC combines two major trends in library tools: the separation of discovery tools from the ILS of old and the use of open source tools to create topquality technology to meet both library and patron needs. Here are its basic line-up features. (And as usual, don't expect more than a vague play-by-play from me about the software's technical aspects. For that info, check out the article, specifically, the section titled Technology Building Blocks.)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The catalog, which at its most basic level is designed to gather data from MARC records from a library's ILS, consists of two components: the indexer and the search engine. The indexer analyzes and extracts data from MARC fields and subfields using simple configuration fields. With the advanced search functionality of the Solr search engine platform, librarians can tell systems administrators which data is most important and which search results should be at the top.

From the end user's point of view, the catalog is a hit. It offers simple and advanced field searching, boosting, Boolean operators, phrase search, and sorting. Patrons are provided with customizable, faceted browsing, as well as RSS and Atom feeds for every search.

As unbeatable as Fac-Back-OPAC sounds, Scott and Beccaria remind interested librarians and programmers about points to consider before jumping on its bandwagon. Does your library have the technical expertise needed for implementation and support? Can your budget accommodate hardware costs and some "must-have" functionality? And will the catalog work with the size of your collection as well as the traffic your Web server will get? Finally, because Fac-Back-OPAC is completely independent of the ILS, any related functionality your ILS provides--holds, payments, account status, etc.--will have to be written into the application separately.

Running the 'Bases

If you're tired of shaking off bad results when searching for STM portals, you will want to catch up with a new resource discussed in "On the Road to Scitopia" (Cyber, pp. …

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