Vendor Interview -- Ex Libris

This week we interview Ex Libris, makers of the Aleph and Voyager ILS products, as well as the forthcoming Alma. John Larson, URM Product Manager, provides the responses.

Question 1: Is your cataloging system current with MARC 21 updates 9, 10, and 11, which made changes to MARC to accommodate RDA? If not, do you plan to update, and do you have a timeline for updating? Have you made the changes for both bibliographic and authority records?

JL: Ex Libris’s two ILS products, Aleph and Voyager, have recently been updated with the approved changes to MARC 21 documented at: http://www.loc.gov/marc/RDAinMARC29.html.

Updated tag tables are deployed when upgrading to the new versions of each system. Ex Libris’s next-generation library management service, Alma, is still under development, but updates 9, 10, and 11 have been implemented, and our development partners are already testing it. Naturally, these changes will be part of the general release of Alma in early 2012, with no additional configuration necessary.

Question 2: Are your system's displays (public facing and admin) capable of displaying the new RDA fields added to MARC? Are any future changes planned? If so, can you share a timeline?

JL: The OPACs of both Aleph and Voyager are already capable of displaying the new fields, as are the staff cataloging clients. The Metadata Editor in Alma is capable of displaying the new RDA fields in MARC. Alma uses the discovery interface of the library’s choice.

Ex Libris’s premier discovery solution, Primo, is capable of displaying data from these fields in a highly configurable way—including using that data for faceting or creating icons for different types of materials (e.g., by media type).

Question 3: Please describe your system's search interface (including its indexing, filtering, and faceting functions), and how it handles the new RDA fields. Are any future changes planned? If so, can you share a timeline?

JL: New RDA data can be used to feed into Primo’s faceting functionality today. However, during the period of transition the goal will be to map to existing facets that are supported by legacy records such as those described according to AACR2. These facets in Primo already use advanced logic to present rich filtering options. Mapping to existing facets will prevent users from inadvertently narrowing their searches to resources only described according to RDA. Ex Libris will continue to monitor uptake and any retroactive conversion processes to see the point at which it would be least disruptive to introduce more granular faceting options based on new data available in RDA.

Question 4: Does your system support cataloging in encodings other than MARC? If so, have you made any changes to these encodings in order to support RDA? Are any future changes planned? If so, can you share a timeline?

JL: Alma features a flexible metadata management infrastructure that allows us to extend format support and implement new formats. The initial release will include support for MARC 21, Dublin Core, and MODS. At the moment, no alterations to either DC or MODS have been made. Because of the extensible infrastructure, Alma allows Ex Libris to add new metadata encoding schemas in the future, should the community begin to adopt them.

Primo also supports displaying records from different metadata encodings. At this point, no changes have been made to those encodings.

Question 5: Libraries are likely to be in a mixed records environment for some time. Do you have any plans to discontinue support to AACR2 records in the foreseeable future?

JL: Ex Libris has no plans to discontinue support for AACR2 for any of its suite of products. Even if libraries adopt RDA for new records, it’s likely that they will continue to require the same support for the large body of existing records encoded in AACR2. With that in mind, our approach is to design all systems such that RDA records can coexist with AACR2 records. This also allows us to support additional content standards used by other communities within our diverse international customer base.

Question 6: Do you have any display, search, or other concerns about using your system in a mixed record environment where AACR2 and RDA records are co-mingled in the catalog?

JL: No, we have no concerns about the records coexisting within the same system. As described above, our approach is to ensure that both content standards are supported within the same system, and that we provide the tools for libraries to choose whichever standard best suits their needs.

Question 7: RDA has an increased focus on record-to-record relationships based on FRBR and adopted the Work-Expression-Manifestation-Item structure. Does your system currently take advantage of this new data and structure to improve the user experience in any way? Are any future user experience improvements based on this data planned? If so, can you share a timeline?

JL: There are no current timelines for enhancing Aleph and Voyager to display FRBR relationships. Primo already supports grouping by FRBR work sets for AACR2. This allows users to see distinct works that match their search query, rather than having to choose from a long set of similar search results. The addition of more granular data in RDA (explicitly modeled based on FRBR) will give libraries a great deal of control over how these groups are created. Alma will include the ability to group works as well, though the advantages for staff are different. This allows them to see alternative formats or editions of a work that they wish to acquire or perform collection analysis on.

Question 8: Some have said that the benefits of RDA cannot be fully realized while MARC remains the dominant encoding standard. If RDA is adopted, how viable do you think MARC will be going forward? What sort of issues would a move away from MARC raise for your product(s)?

JL: MARC will be a viable and valuable format for some time, precisely because of the existing investment in it. As the recent statement, “Transforming our Bibliographic Framework” from the U.S. Library of Congress notes, we have billions of records encoded in MARC 21, and libraries have made significant investments in a MARC-based infrastructure. Because of this, MARC 21 will continue to be necessary, as will strong system support for it.

With that said, Ex Libris is monitoring various analyses of new encoding standards with interest. One of the main reasons the Metadata Management System in Alma was designed with extensibility in mind was that we saw such a design as a core requirement. The library community is undergoing a period of significant change and opportunity, and any system for the coming decades needs to support an array of metadata standards, as well as to provide the infrastructure for those that have not yet been finalized. With that in mind, both Alma and Primo are designed to handle non-MARC formats without having to alter the infrastructure. With relatively minor changes, they can be enhanced to support new formats that the library community adopts in any transition away from MARC.