Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bounty Harvesting - AquaBrowser

This catalog searching interface definitely possesses many great advantages with respect to convenience, thoroughness, and user-friendliness. The patron simply starts from the opening screen by typing in a single search query which yields results gathered from all of the library's resources at once. In addition to the usual library formats, this includes local databases, websites, library documents (such as recommended reading lists), journals, subscription databases and any other type of resource within the entire collection. Not only is the user saved the inconvenience of having to research multiple databases separately, but also afforded ready access to a variety of information resources which they may not have thought of otherwise, if left to their own devices. In addition, the typical catalog query allows for searching beyond standard bibliographic data to include tables of contents, summaries, reviews, article texts, fiction profiles, and more.

Another leading-edge feature of this interface, is its advanced system of cross-referencing designed as an aid to facilitate subject searching. Once the patron enters their own initial choice of subject search terms, AquaBrowser actually guides them to the most appropriate terms to use. The way this simple process works is through the use of a "word cloud" on the left-hand side of the catalog screen which directs the user to additional subject terms which may be used in order to enhance their initial search results. Not only is the user provided with suggested similar or related terms but also foreign language equivalents, spelling variations, and terms which compensate for spelling errors or typos which may be present in the original search entry. The catalog's database of cross-referenced subject terms is constantly enhanced through periodic downloading of user tags from LibraryThing as well as those contributed by library staff and the general public. With all of these browsing aids readily available at their fingertips, it's as if each patron at the catalog had their own personal library coach on hand ensuring the success of their search.

The search results themselves can be narrowed to a very high degree of specificity. This is accomplished within the "refine panel" on the right-hand side of the screen. Here, results are broken down into such categories as format, language, reading level, author, subject, series, geographical location, year of publication, and genre. Additional categories are provided for fiction works including time frame, character, character traits, setting, and location. Although the individual titles within the search results are ranked by relevance which is extremely helpful, I did not get the same sense of catalog functionality with respect to over-all hierarchical subject heading organization. I discovered that if I wanted to explore a general topic more specifically, I could do so with relative ease only if I knew which areas of the subject I was interested in beforehand. I like a nice neat hierarchical listing of Library of Congress subject headings and their more specific subdivisions available for my perusal in those instances where I want to do some informal exploring of a topic from a more in depth perspective. This is an important feature that is definitely missing here.

There are some additional special features which deserve mention here. Both library staff and patrons can contribute a personal review on any item in the library. Additionally, patrons can construct their own reading lists which can be shared with other members of the public. There is even instant public access to purchasing information with respect to many items in the library's collection, as AquaBrowser offers linking capability between catalog records and websites such as or those belonging to local bookstores.

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