Friday, August 21, 2009

What You Need to Know: Part 4 (Fall 2009)

First: What has Jim the Librarian Read Lately?

Sort of a mélange, actually. I got through both Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson and White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

Tree of Smoke was an interesting book. It follows a few characters through Asia in the time of the Vietnam War, touched off by the assassination of President Kennedy. Some of it takes place in Vietnam and some of it takes place in the Philippines, and all of it consists of interesting episodes in the lives of its characters as they struggle through the expanding ripples of the war. Most of it seems to be a commentary of sorts on human nature, both in terms of the local culture and the Americans who are there for various reasons. It's also pretty funny in parts. White Tiger, on the other hand, is one of that rare breed of books: both screamingly hilarious and deeply thought-provoking. It follows the life of one Balram Halwai and his trajectory from an impoverished village in rural India to a job as a driver for a wealthy man in Delhi, then to a murder, flight, and eventually success as a Bangalore entrepreneur, all in the form of a series of letters to Chinese premier Hu Jintao. The letters also serve as a meditation on India itself and the people who live in it; there's so much that's both familiar and jarringly different. Large, sparkling malls rise next to slums where people use a communal trough as both a bathroom and a ward against outsiders, and Balram must learn to live with his employer's American wife and her startling, last-minute compassion while placating his traditional grandmother's demands that he return to the village to be married. It's a truly fantastic book.

As always, both are on display.

Now, moving on. We've reached part 4, and this is a big post: I'll be talking about the changes we're making to our online catalog. They're big and bold, and you should start coming across them sometime next week while searching through our collection.

As you can see in the screenshot to the left, the changes, though largely cosmetic in terms of utility, are drastic. Things look a little blank for now because we're still tweaking the eye-candy. Still, you can really see how different it is from the old catalog.

First, some background, then we'll go over the different elements step-by-step.

We've basically switched over from the old platform to a new one. This new platform is called "Aquabrowser," and it's been getting a lot of interest from libraries all over, including the one at Harvard University. We're calling it "ALADIN Discovery," and it's an improvement over the old one because more information is immediately visible, and it provides quite a few more options for manipulating your search so you can more easily navigate your way through both our collection and the collections of the seven other universities in the WRLC.

With that said, let's get specific!

It's in beta
This isn't by any stretch of the imagination the final product. We plan to tinker with various elements of the catalog search as we hear more from all of you about what you like or dislike about using the new system. There's quite a bit of customization possible with this, which is why it's such a good thing to have!

That word-web kind of thingy on the left
... for lack of a better term, anyway. This is one of the key features that's coming in with this change. This is mostly a semantic web; that means that any keyword will automatically bring up a bunch of other words that are related to your original keyword. This can help you find other words for the same thing, related concepts, spelling variants (in case you mistyped the keyword or there's an equally-applicable word that's just a little different -- like "emphasize" and "emphasise"), translations, or what is called a "Discovery trail," which consists of the last words you searched for. It's good for either expanding your ability to search for related concepts or just plain old looking around.

The search results
You'll see right away that it's now much easier to see whether the item you're looking at is a book or a movie. No more [videorecording]s! We also used to have individual records for the same item held by different schools. It didn't matter if our copy of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men's Chest was identical to Georgetown's copy; both copies had their own separate records because they were at different schools. Not anymore! We've managed to accomplish the monumental feat of merging all of our records so that one record can now apply to multiple copies across multiple schools. This should help make things much easier for you to find.

Select location
Basically exactly what it looks like. Right now, the default search will show all the libraries in the WRLC, but you can still limit your search to Gallaudet's holdings only, just by using this drop-down menu.

Narrow results by:
Also pretty much what it looks like. You can do this for time period (such as "telecommunication devices" before 1931), region ("children's literature" from China), online (do you prefer e-books or would you rather avoid those?), and so on and so forth. There are a lot of different options that should come in very handy when you're searching for something that may be difficult to find.

Now let's take a look at an actual item record ...

As you can see in the screenshot to the right, the first part in the middle isn't so new -- it looks a lot like the kind of record you could get through the old catalog system. However, the Notes (which tells you what additional stuff is included, like an index or a bibliography), Summary (self-explanatory), and Contents (basically a table of contents) fields are all now collapsible; you can show or hide them as you please. This saves space and makes it easier to make sure that the item has what you need before you go looking for it and possibly checking it out.

Below that, you can see the new "Item availability" section, which tells you which school has a copy, where that copy is located, and whether or not it's available. If you can't check the book out right away, but want to keep the record for later, we also now provide a few different ways to do so, whether by printing, e-mailing, Twittering, or digging. Also, the CLS request process has been simplified: just click the "Request" button!

Up on the left, you can see the options for viewing the MARC record (basically the actual record as it's coded into our catalog, untranslated into the nice, neat version you see here), options for working with the record's Web address (URL) so you'll be able to go straight to it from an external source, and exporting all the information in the record into RefWorks, where it'll create a citation for you if you use the book in a paper.

In a nutshell, we're just looking to make our catalog into even more of a one-stop shop than ever. You should be able to do many more things on your own. It also looks a bit more updated than the old catalog, which was kind of static, confusingly laid-out, and anything but visually-oriented. It was a great workhorse while it lasted, but, as you can see, we're ready to move on to the next generation, and we think you are, too.

We are also totally open for any comments or feedback on ALADIN Discovery; I've said the system is pretty flexible and there are many customizable elements, but we can't make very good changes without your input. We'll be adding a link to leave comments soon, but in the meantime, just click on "Ask a Librarian" up top on the right-hand side and let us know what you think!

That wraps it up for Part 4. As I said, we'll be rolling this new system out sometime next week, so keep an eye out and get ready to experiment!

Question of the Week
I'm a grad student, and I love to read, but would like to find out more about the Library. Will the Library be involved in any orientation activities?
You bet we are. On Monday, August 24, we'll have a table at GSO Arrival Day in JSAC, where you can pick up some goodies, grab this handout (PDF), and give ALADIN a try, including searching the catalog for your favorite book or movie and checking out our very impressive list of databases.

Then on Tuesday, we'll be doing lunch with all the new grad students at the Plaza Dining Hall. We're going to give a multimedia presentation full of interesting Library facts and some very far-out trivia. You'll also be able to talk to some of our librarians and ask us anything!

Then we'll be hanging out in front of the building on Wednesday, giving out lemonade and other treats for New Undergraduate Student Arrival Day, although, of course, anyone (including grad students) is welcome to stop by and get a nice cool drink and a delicious snack!

And, of course, all through the week, feel free to drop by the Library (we're open until 5 p.m. all week), take a look at what we have, meet the people who work here, ask questions, and maybe borrow something nice to take home with you before you get too busy to enjoy the Library for anything other than academic work!

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