VuFind Virtual Bootcamp

As part of the Lucero project I’m currently working on at the Open University, I’m looking at lots of library catalogue records. While exploring the first set of data I was playing with (around 25,000 records in MARC format) it struck me that one of the more recent library ‘search’ products might be helpful. These new products (sometimes known as ‘next gen’ (NG) discovery platforms) are being taken up by libraries to replace their (often aging, rarely pretty) ‘OPACs’ (online public access catalogues) which tend to be a web interface onto what is, at heart, a ‘business’ system – one that administers books, users, serials, and other library stuff.

These discovery platforms tend to work by taking an import of data from the library catalogue on a regular basis, and specialise in indexing the data, rather than the many other administrative tasks that the library catalogue hides. Using dedicated software, that isn’t worrying about any other functionality, these new platforms tend to be much faster returning search results, and give a lot of flexibility in how indexes are built on the data.

While many of the available products are commercial pieces of software (or increasingly, services), there are a couple of relatively high profile open source solutions Р VuFind and Blacklight. If you are interested in a comparison of these two systems, keep an eye on the CREDAUL at the University of Sussex (http://credaul.wordpress.com) which is looking at the both.

So I decided I’d try installing VuFind and use that to explore the data. VuFind is PHP based, but also makes use of the SOLR search platform, which runs on Java. It took me a couple of hours or so fiddling to get the whole thing working – but I thought that was pretty good going – by the end of it, I had my 25k records fully indexed, and was ready to use the system to explore the data.

All of this gave me an idea – this is something you can run on a laptop, and is a great way of looking at your library catalogue data – often exposing issues with the data that you can correct in the catalogue if you want to as well. So, I had the idea that at the next Mashed Library event (Mashspa in Bath) we could run a VuFind ‘bootcamp’, helping delegates get VuFind installations up and running.

Being an impatient sort, 29th October was far too long to wait to get started, so then I thought that maybe I could do a ‘virtual’ version of the bootcamp beforehand (and that would also make sure I was prepared on the day!). So, the idea is that I’m going to post weekly blog posts dealing with the installation of VuFind step by step. I’ll focus on Windows, but already have some people who are interested in doing an install on Linux and Mac OS X. Along side these, I’ll run weekly ‘support sessions’ where I’ll be online to try to help work through problems/issues that people are having – the idea is that these will be live sessions – although I don’t know whether that will be via chat, voice or something else.

Anyway, the starting point is this blog post, and this forum on the Mashed Library site. If you are interested in joining in, sign up to http://www.mashedlibrary.com/groups/vufind-virtual-bootcamp/ and follow along – I’m intending to post the first set of instructions within the week, with a support session to follow shortly after.

Finally if you are interested in the various ‘next gen’ discovery interfaces for libraries, I’d recommend having a look at this list of JISC projects http://code.google.com/p/jisclms/w/list that all deal with improving/experimenting with the library discovery interface and experience.

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