trying to explain why Umalut is cool yet again

On the Code4Lib Listserv, Jeremy Frumkin describes a future direction for libraries that again makes me think “Yeah, that’s exactly what Umlaut tries to do.”  Umlaut isn’t just a fancy new interface for SFX, it’s trying to do, I think, what Jeremy describes. (Note that sometime in the next couple months I hope to find time to overhaul Umlaut to be much easier to install and maintain, working under Rails3 and ruby 1.9. The ruby 1.9 part should make it more performant as well, due to threading issues).

On 6/1/2011 10:46 PM, Frumkin, Jeremy wrote:

If we are indeed trying to meet our users’ needs, perhaps we need not to continue to build just-in-case collections, but provide just-in-time access to information resources, regardless of their location, and perhaps even without needing a local collection at all.

This is in fact exactly the goal of my Umlaut software (originally started by Ross Singer, now developed by me, with some contributions from other developers), which is seperate from the catalog, it’s a sort of “link resolver”, but more than the type of “link resolver” you’re familiar with.

The idea is that Umlaut is _not_ used for finding resources you are interested in with keyword search (like the catalog, or Google). Rather, it’s for, once you’ve identified a particular title/work/resource you’re interested in, Umlaut gives “just-in-time” access and service options.

For that to work, _something_ has to send Umlaut an OpenURL (Umlaut could certainly be modified to accept things in other structured formats too, with individual citation elements identified).

Then Umlaut checks the catalog, and tells you if we have it on the shelves (with call number location, and ‘request’ document delivery option from the catalog). It also checks the SFX knowledge base, which works for journal articles more then e-books. It ALSO checks:  Amazon, Google Books, HathiTrust, and Internet Archive — for both full text availability and “search inside” availability (which can be present even without full text, like in Amazon), and direct links to both.  It also provides Inter-Library Loan links, and assorted other service links (like ‘cited by’ from ISI or Scopus when the “just in time” resource is an article).

It’s definitely not perfect, there are a LOT of challenges to trying to do this, and a lot of things I have ideas (but no time) for making better; and other things I’d like to make better but _don’t_ have ideas of how to feasibly accomplish. But the aim of it is very much like what Jeremy describes. (Note that “just in time” searching the entire internet for open access copies is a HUGE challenge; you need someone with a search index of the entire internet, which has an API, which also somehow gives you enough data to figure out with some reliability if a hit really is an _open access_ copy of what you’re looking for — we don’t have that, especially the third).

Here’s an example of Umlaut on a book, that has useful open access services Umlaut can find:

We also use Umlaut as a central infrastructural piece providing these services in our other interfaces that DO allow keyword searching, like the catalog. So the similar elements on this page are also provided by Umlaut:

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