A collaborative approach to developing a new Duke Libraries catalog

Post contributed by: Emily Daly, Thomas Crichlow, and Cory Lown

If you’re a frequent or even casual user of the Duke Libraries catalog, you’ve probably noticed that it’s remained remarkably consistent over the last decade. Consistency can be a good thing, but there is certainly room for improvement in the Duke Libraries catalog, and staff from the libraries at Duke, UNC, and NCSU are excited to replace the current catalog’s aging infrastructure and outdated user interface with an entirely new collaboratively developed open-source discovery layer. While many things are changing, one key feature will remain the same: The catalog will continue to allow users to locate and access materials not only here at Duke but also across the other Triangle Research Libraries member libraries (NCSU, NCCU, UNC).

Users will be able to search for items in the Duke Libraries catalog and then expand to see books and items from NCSU, NCCU, and UNC if they wish.

Commitment to collaboration

In addition to an entirely new central index that supports institutional and consortial searching, the new catalog benefits from a shared, centrally developed codebase as well as locally hosted, customizable catalog interfaces. Perhaps most notably, the new catalog has been built with the needs of library and complex bibliographic data in mind. While the software used for the current library catalog has evolved and grown in complexity to support e-commerce and business needs (not higher ed or library needs), the library software development community has been hard at work building specialized discovery layers using the open-source Blacklight framework. Peer institutions including Stanford, Cornell, and Princeton are already using Blacklight for their library catalogs, and there is an active Blacklight development community that Duke is excited to be a part of. Being part of this community enables us to build on the good work already in place in other library catalogs, including more intuitive facets, adaptive linking for subjects and other fields, a more responsive user interface for access via tablets and phones, and the ability to preserve the order of MARC fields when it’s useful to researchers (MARC is an international standard for representing bibliographic and related data).

We’re upping our collaboration game locally, too: This project has given us the opportunity to develop a new model for collaborative software development. Rather than reinvent the wheel at each Triangle Research Library, we’re combining effort and expertise to develop a feature-rich yet highly customizable discovery layer that will serve the needs of researchers across the triangle. To do this, we have adopted an agile project management process with talented developers and dedicated product owners from NCSU, UNC, and Duke. The agile approach has helped us be more productive and efficient during the development phase and increased collaboration across the four Triangle Research Libraries, positioning us well for maintaining and governing the catalog after we go live.

This image depicts the structure of the development team that was formed in May 2017 to collaboratively build the new library catalog.

What’s next?

The development team has already conducted multiple rounds of user testing and made changes to the user interface based on findings. We’re now ready to hear feedback from library staff. To facilitate this, we’ll be launching the Duke instance of the catalog to all library staff next Wednesday, August 1. We encourage staff to explore catalog features and records and then report feedback, providing screenshots, URLs, and other details as needed. We’ll continue user testing this fall and solicit extensive feedback from faculty, students, staff, and general researchers.

Our plan (fingers crossed!) is to officially launch the new Duke Libraries catalog to all users in early 2019, perhaps as soon as the start of the spring semester. A local implementation team is already at work to be sure we’re ready to replace Duke’s old catalog with the new and improved version early next year. Meanwhile, development and interface enhancement of the catalog will continue this fall. While we are pleased with what we’ve accomplished over the last 18 months, there is still significant work to be done before we’ll be ready to go live. Here are a few items on the lengthy TO DO list:

  • finish loading the 16 million records from all four Triangle Research libraries
  • integrate Duke’s request workflows so users can request items they discover in the new catalog
  • develop a robust Advanced Search interface in response to user demand
  • tune relevance ranking
  • ensure that non-Roman scripts are searchable and display correctly
  • map non-MARC metadata so items such as digital collections records are discoverable
Effective search and display of non-Roman scripts is just one of the many items left on our list before we launch the library catalog to the public.

There is a lot of work ahead to be sure, but what we will launch to staff next week is a functional catalog with nearly 10 million records, and that number is increasing by the day. We invite you to take the new catalog for a spin and tell us what you think so we can make improvements and be ready for all researchers in just a few short months.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *