Questions to evaluate content providers?

When selectors are evaluating electronic content providers, they may or may not consider some of the more technical issues that can end up plaguing those of us working to make library services work well in a unified way for our users–and thus plaguing our users too.

Do any of my readers have standard questions to ask potential content providers, or ways of evaluating them on more technical grounds? What do your libraries do to try to ensure content providers have the technical infrastructure we need, or to pressure them to get it? If the people with the primary responsibility for selecting don’t neccesarily have the technical background to understand/evaluate these things—then what, what’s your ‘workflow’ here?

Here is a sketched out draft of questions I came up with to ask content providers prior to signing a contract, specifically related to link resolver and federated search products I work with–although the issues related to federated search pretty much carry over to other fancy ‘2.0’ things too. Would appreciate any feedback.

1. Will the service generate outgoing OpenURL links to our OpenURL link resolver?

  • For all hits?
    For some subset? (Describe)

2. Is it possible to generate article-level ‘deep links’ into the service?

  • As an OpenURL formatted URL?
  • Other proprietary format of url?
  • Only some articles?
  • 2a. What can these article-level deep links point to?
    • Full text PDF
    • Full text HTML
    • Article abstract/metadata page
    • All of the above, at the clients choice?
  • 2b. Is the Ex Libris SFX product set up to work with your service, generating article-level deep links to it?

3. Can the service be used with ‘broadcast search’ federated search products like Ex Libris Metalib?

  • Via Z39.50?
    Via other standard protocol (eg SRU)?
    Via custom/proprietary XML HTTP protocol?
  • 3a. Is _all_ article metadata which is displayed via native interface also delivered via this protocol? If not, what is left out?
  • 3b. Is Ex Libris Metalib specifically set up to search the service?
  • 3c. Especially if z39.50, what is your server’s typical response time? [Many vendors z39.50 services are ridiculously slow].

4. If the service provides other services than ‘search’, are these services made available through some machine-accessible API?


2 thoughts on “Questions to evaluate content providers?”

  1. So, I’ve begun using these questions, along with others in my vendor interactions re. potential new e-resource acquisitions. It’s fascinating to see how little selectors’ main vendor contacts know about the technical specifications of their own products.

    In the two instances that have come up, both vendors have had to contact their respective heads of technical development. After they enter into the conversation my questions are answered. This makes me think:

    1. It’s not just our institution. Selectors in general aren’t asking these types of questions.

    2. Why not? Even if in some cases the answers are moot because faculty demand is so overwhelming, aren’t these interactions great places for advocacy and our product technical development demands to be voiced? So what’s stopping us?

    3. Why are vendors frustrated and/or surprised that we’re asking these questions? In both cases, I’ve noticed a bit of hostility and/or defensiveness around these kinds of conversations. Baffling.

    3. Why release products that are not fully functional? In the case of both vendors the products will be OpenURL compliant … in mid/late 2008. MARC … in 2008. Other functionality? You guessed it … 2008. Both are available for use and purchase now. I know they’ve got a fiscal year and a bottom line, but the good faith contract gets old.

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