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Single Interface Library Service From Serials Solutions: The Summon
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Posted On January 26, 2009


"How come this library isn’t as easy to use as Google?" Serials Solutions (www.serialssolutions.com), a subsidiary of ProQuest, is in beta testing on a product that it hopes will answer that question, "It is! We Summon you to see." Referred to by Serials Solutions staff as a "unified discovery service," the new interface provides a single search box—a la Google—that can reach out to all the digital sources available through library licensing and all the digitally identified physical resources, i.e., OPAC cataloged items. Developers of this hosted service maintain that it is moving far beyond traditional federated searching. The new service will likely be compared to other library portal services, such as Ex Libris’ Primo or Innovative Interfaces, Inc.’s Encore, both launched in 2006, which also aim to provide access to all types of library content. At the ALA Mid-Winter conference in Denver, Marshall Breeding, director for Innovative Technology and Research for the Vanderbilt University Libraries, described Summon as an interesting new product in the quest to help libraries deliver convenient access for their users to the full range of their collections that span both print and electronic content.

Jane Burke, vice president of Serials Solutions, described Summon as addressing the library community’s "most pressing need: a simple entry point to the vastness of library collections. One search box, one results screen, one path to the best, most credible content." She stressed how the service was a logical development: "Everything has been leading to this." As the product develops further, adding new features and signing up more publishers and library vendors, it could provide a lot more information, including support for interlibrary loan and acquisition as well as multimedia content, and more features, including citation formating and advanced search.

Burke made it clear that the target market for Summon is academic libraries, where, as John Law, vice president of discovery services at Serials Solutions, pointed out, licensed databases can number into the hundreds. When asked about corporate libraries or other libraries serving end users, Burke said, "We don’t know enough yet about other libraries."

Building on its extensive relationships with publishers and library vendors created in the course of developing the knowledgebase for its more than 2,000 library clients, Serials Solutions even boasts the support of a traditional ProQuest competitor, Cengage Gale, for the new Summon service. Two academic libraries, Dartmouth College Library and Oklahoma State University, are currently testing and providing feedback on Summon. The company will add one more beta test library each month from February through May. Serials Solutions hopes to release a version for purchase in midyear. No subscription price has been set as yet.

From the relevancy-ranked list, users can click to full-text articles as well as books, bibliographic and abstracting tools, online reference content, etc. One persistent problem with federated searching of any sort has been trying to widely relevancy rank different formats. If one uses any form of weighting for word counts, comparing full-text articles with catalog metadata for an article or book could be like comparing apples with orange orchards. Law stated, "This was one of the key challenges when we started designing the architecture. We want to enable Summon to tune relevance to content types. At this stage—and for the beta period—we’re using out-of-the-box relevancy ranking, but the next thing is to start the tuning." The results page already offers a number of refining options. For example, users can limit to scholarly publications including peer-reviewed content. They can specify format (books, articles, etc.), publication date ranges, broad subject categories, etc. A magnifying glass icon indicates content available for quick previews and users can also limit searches to items that are immediately available.

A key feature of Summon is the harvesting of content in the library’s ILS so that it can present a unified view of a library’s collection that includes both its physical collection as well as the electronic content it provides through its licensed subscriptions.

As for content, Summon includes publications from more than 300 million full-content articles harvested from 50,000 journals from 40 partners, such as Springer, Taylor & Francis, Sage Publications, etc. Other publishers participating include Nature Publishing Group, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, the National Academy of Sciences, Maney, Kluwer Law International, Walter de Gruyter, Thieme, the ACM, the Institute of Physics, the American Medical Association, and the American Institute of Physics. Major abstracting and indexing services in Summon include EconLit, Sociological Abstracts, GPO, Medline, ERIC, Agricola, Pilots, Toxline, and OECD. Metadata for items linked in the database include DOI’s from CrossRef. (For details, go to www.serialssolutions.com/summon/summon-content-participants.html.) It is harvesting open access content from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Hindawi Publishing Corp., and arXiv e-prints. And the list of participants is growing rapidly.

Mike Buschman, senior product manager at Serials Solutions, says, "The service is changing rapidly and evolving new features." Though it is early days yet to evaluate the beta mode service, the centralization should make the service easy to implement and quick to perform. Serials Solutions will support any Open URL link resolvers, as well as SFX and other link resolvers. A "Search outside the Library Collection" option should help support interlibrary loan requests. An Advanced Search option will focus on "field-ed" data such as author names, titles, etc. Citation formating and exporting to bibliographic management software, such as EndNote, RefWorks, and ProCite, will be available. A recommendation engine is also in development. An open API will enable integration with existing library websites or campus systems.

In time, users could see the emergence of community services, such as forums and social networking among users and interested parties. Law envisions Summon "as an open platform in three ways—an open API, there now, open contributions of content, and the continuous enhancement of metadata. Like library cataloging has staff to enhance catalog records with new or different subject terms or metadata or authority files, we want to provide an opportunity for the library community to contribute. We haven’t worked out all the details yet, but we have partners working on that."

For any publisher or library vendor interested in participating, Serials Solutions claims great flexibility in accommodating any technical issues. It can crawl and transfer content through FTP, OAI, USB drives, etc. and content in any major format (XML, HTML, PDF, delimited ASCII, MARC, etc.). The company prefers complete backfiles and full citations. When asked if they would consider working directly with Google, e.g., if Google opens up its Google Book Search content as promised in its Google Book Search settlement announcement, Law responded with caution, stating that they might if the content were treated as coming from a cooperative consortium of participating institutions, they might incorporate links.

On Jan. 15, we posted a NewsBreak about a new platform from another ProQuest subsidiary, eLibrary ("New eLibrary Interface Shows the Path for ProQuest, http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=52248). When I asked Barb Beach, vice president of publishing at ProQuest, whether the new eLibrary developments offered a precursor of the promised "super-platform" under development to support all ProQuest services, including Cambridge Scientific Abstracts and Dialog hosted files, the answer was a resounding yes. When I asked Jane Burke of Serials Solutions, another ProQuest subsidiary, the same question about Summon, the answer was an equally resounding no. Burke stated, "It is a separate service and a separate project. The platform ProQuest is working on is for ProQuest content and the in-depth need for storing and serving up their complete content. Summon is publisher-neutral. We are a neutral discovery service. It is not the same."


Barbara Quint is contributing editor for NewsBreaks, senior editor of Online Searcher, and a columnist for Information Today.

Email Barbara Quint
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