New Umlaut Elevator Speech

The more I develop Umlaut, the better understanding I have of what makes it cool.

So, okay, it’d have to be a long elevator ride, but:

Umlaut could be described as an ‘openurl link resolver front-end’, or just an ‘openurl link resolver’. But, okay…

What is a ‘link resolver’

Nearly every academic library has one. Most of the staff may not realize they have one, but if a typical staff person could answer at all, they might say “It’s that thing that gets us to full text for journal articles,” and other staff would say “Oh, yeah, that thing.”

That’s true as far as it goes, but in fact even for typical commercially purchased link resolvers like SFX, SerSol 360Link, or whatever OCLC is calling theirs at the moment — that’s not all it does.

Not just full text — your link resolver probably also has ILL links, and some kind of attempt to show you what’s in the catalog (probably in print) too. The only thing is it does these services-other-than-online-fulltext really poorly (especially print/catalog), and doesn’t do very many of them.

Not just articles — whether a book citation from a licensed scholarly databases that contain a few books amidst the journal articles, or a book citation from Google Scholar or Worldcat, your link resolver already does more than find full text for journal articles.

It just does these things really poorly. Full text for journal articles is it’s ‘core competency’ (although there’s room for improvement even there), and everything else is a mess.

What if it did these well?

What if your link resolver handled not just article citations, but increasingly handled any kind of citation for a library-type item with appropriate services?

What if these services included not just full text, but ILL, other document delivery options, other things you can do with the citation (search inside the book, search inside the journal title, various kinds of export, show me similar articles), and more.

What if it consulted not just a built-in vendor provided knowledge base that comes with a commercial link resolver, but other local knowledge bases (like your catalog, for both print and electronic stuff that may be in your catalog but not your link resolver kb, like e-books), and even third-party remote knowledge bases (likely for publically available stuff, like Hathi Trust).

What if it actually did these things reasonably well giving users an integrated interface, eliminating extra clicks, only showing them links that will actually get them to what they advertise.

Once you’ve got that, instead of trying to discourage use of this tool, you want to encourage people to use this tool.  And you keep realizing that this tool is the solution to a bunch of problems you have (some you realized you had and some you didn’t).  Adding publically available e-text links to your catalog;  giving people library services in as few clicks as possible from whatever discovery tool they happen to use, whether library provided or on the public web; exposing licensed services you were already paying for in a much more convenient package for your users.

The Known Item Services Provider as Key Infrastructure

What you’ve got then is a piece of library infrastructure you didn’t really have before at all, something for lack of a better term let’s call a ‘known item service provider’.

What you’ve got is Umlaut.

Eric Lease Morgan recently wrote:

I then made an attempt to describe how our “next generation” library catalogs could go so much further by providing services against the texts as well as services against the index. “Discovery is not the problem that needs to be solved.”

Umlaut is the solution to this problem that needs solving.  But it’s not part of a next-generation library catalog, it’s a de-coupled service focusing like a laser just on these ‘known item services’.  You can integrate it in your catalog of choice, but you can integrate it a bunch of other places too.  It has services for items that are traditionally found in the catalog, but also items not traditionally found in the catalog, like journal articles.

Umlaut aims to live wherever you need it to live, take whatever kind of known item citation you can throw at it, and give the user what they need.  Of course, it’s aims are bigger than it’s currently capabilities, but it’s current capabilities aren’t too shabby, and are so beyond your current commercial link resolver, that adding Umlaut on top of your current link resolver gives you an entirely new kind of thing, the piece of library infrastructure that (in my case at least) you didn’t even realize you were missing until you had it.

And all this can be yours for the low price of no money but a willingness to get your hands a bit dirty collaborating in some open source software, which is getting more mature by the month.

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4 Responses to New Umlaut Elevator Speech

  1. This post should be called: “Known item services provider”.

    I’m still wishing for a tagline. You know, the “more stuff in more places” kind of line. Like “discovered to found” or “cited to on-screen” or something like that. Or “rich services for getting stuff”. (‘Services provider’ isn’t doing it for me.)

    Is it fair to call a link resolver a “known item full-text finder”? As you say, it does more–just poorly–since libraries often have a services layer over the linkresolver. Besides full-text, it’s typical to push to ILL requests, and sometimes other places (e.g.’see serial info at Ulrich’s’).

    Part of the trouble is that the link resolver is not just one thing–it’s the knowledge base, the services layer, and the code linking these up (lookups). Umlaut is about a rich services layer…

    In marketing and in explaining, less is more. But you’re getting better at explaining Umlaut. :)

    Here’s the central idea, in what you wrote:
    “Adding publicaly available e-text links to your catalog; giving people library services in as few clicks as possible from whatever discovery tool they happen to use, whether library provided or on the public web; exposing licensed services you were already paying for in a much more convenient package for your users.”

    Some of what you say is unclear even to me (and I think I know what you’re talking about, mostly). For instance, “library-type item with appropriate services”. Ummm, “library-type stuff”? Not sure I know what that is.

    Hope others will throw out better ideas (maybe even with brevity). Because your work with Umlaut is marvelous, and I want you to find more people with resources to throw at it!

  2. jrochkind says:

    Thanks Jodi. I’ve heard Ross Singer describe Umlaut as “last mile” services.

    I like that, but it still kind of implies delivery. Document delivery (including both electronic ‘full text’ and print delivery) is perhaps the most important class of services here, but not the only class.

    Eric contrasts these services to ‘discovery’, which I think is exactly right. Umlaut’s services are what happens after discovery (wherever it takes place, online or off) — what can you do with or find out more about this item of interest? Eric tries “services against a text”, but I think that might only capture a subset too.

    “Item services”?

  3. Yeah, “Last mile services” implies getting stuff to the user. That fits decently, IMO. And, like in transportation systems, the “last mile” is not covered well, but quite important.

    I agree that the contrast is against discovery. But contrasting discovery and ‘finding/getting’ doesn’t work for me–these seem too close.

    “What happens after discovery” is kind of punchy. But, not specific.

    “Item services” doesn’t put an image in my head. It’s entirely correct, but not evocative.

    So–back to “last mile”–what are the other services besides delivery that are important to represent/evoke?

  4. Kevin says:

    Instead of an elevator speech, what about giving an analogy?

    VuFind : your ILS :: Umlaut : your OpenURL resolver

    That is, it’s a front-end that handles queries from users, but it relies on the actual data being maintained elsewhere and, importantly, offers more features than the traditional integrated package.

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