OCLC Research @ University of Calgary

As those of you who have listened to Tom Hickerson’s Distinguished Seminar Series lecture will know, the University of Calgary has embarked on an ambitious plan of integrating their libraries, archives and museums under a single administrative umbrella (Libraries & Cultural Resources or LCR). This convergence is catalyzed by a new building in the heart of the university’s campus, which will co-locate the units as well as many campus research, teaching & learning support functions. In latest news, last week a reorganization of LCR was announced to realign the staff with emerging priorities. The University of Calgary is our latest addition to the roster of institutions participating in the RLG Partnership, and to make proper mutual introductions, a team from OCLC Research visited Calgary last week.

In conversations preparing for our trip, we were asked to make a contribution in moving LAM integration at the university forward, and in particular, to focus on Calgary’s ambitions to create a single search across LCR resources. (Calgary currently experiments with Summon for single search – watch an introduction here). Our agenda (inspired by our LAM workshops) called for a broad discussion establishing key features for single search, followed by sessions focused on how archives, metadata services/libraries and museums can contribute to these features and the overarching goal of single search. You’ll find the presentation we used to set the scene for the single search discussions here – it also contains a number of examples from other institutions who have ventured down this path, including the Victoria & Albert, Yale & the Smithsonian.

In the initial discussion, an ambitious and far-reaching vision for single-search emerged. We narrowed down a long list of ideas to the following core attributes:

  • Single Search needs to genuinely fulfill an articulated user need.
  • Single Search should represent all existing data sources, including local as well as licensed data.
  • Single Search can only be successful if resources are described comprehensively, necessitating a renewed focus on the un- and under-described.
  • Single Search needs to allow a user to successfully complete their task (shorthanded during the meeting as “get it”), whether that means accessing a full-text journal article, downloading a digital image or making an appointment to research an archival or museum collection.
  • There were many other ideas beyond this core set of attributes, for example the notion of using single search to advertise mediation services and expertise available to students on campus.

    The discussions in the groups focused on the communities contributing data to single search showed that this vision of one-stop-shopping for campus resources challenges the fragmented nature in which these resources are managed. During our discussions, we’ve learned about the many systems holding data, and the particular challenges in extracting and integrating the data into single search. However, creating a common data model and integrating the data is only the start: I was particularly struck by the areas requiring attention to ensure that the user can actually act on the search results, such as:

  • Agreeing on a limited number of clear rights statements which encourage use of data and images
  • Clarifying on-site access policies which make the way physical collections can be used transparent
  • Among the many highlights of our visit was a hard-hat tour of the Taylor Family Digital Library building, which left little doubt in our minds that this building will become a staple of student life on campus. Numerous spaces for sipping coffee, holding group meetings, preparing presentations, studying alone, interacting with collections and data show that engagement with students was a key-consideration in its design – not to even mention the beautiful views of downtown Calgary as well as the Rocky Mountains from many of the public spaces on the higher floors.

    We’re looking forward to working closely with the talented staff we’ve had the privilege to meet during our visit. For more photos, check out the set of Calgary pictures on the OCLC Research Flickr site.