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by Marla Dobson, Curator, Museum of Health Care at Kingston

Walking into the Toronto Hilton for the 2019 Canadian Museums Association Conference, I was eager to get to know some of my fellow colleagues and to engage in some big thinking on behalf of the Museum of Health Care at Kingston. I am very grateful to Andornot for awarding me their Professional Development Grant, which allowed me to enjoy this conference.

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In total, I attended four educational sessions, two of which were, on paper, about art. As a PhD in art history, this is a topic close to my heart. While this may, at first glance, seem at odds with the role of Curator of the Museum of Health Care, I believe that we can learn a lot about providing a people-centered visitor experience by examining the ways in which communities engage with the arts. At their core, these sessions demonstrated new ways of thinking about museum programming, not just in art galleries, but in museums of all kinds. Through the use of artist-in-residence programs as well as arts-based therapy programs, many museums are more deeply engaging their communities and providing innovative and potentially life-changing programming. The overall takeaway was the importance of involving your community more actively in programming, as well as thinking more creatively and thematically about your collections.

Another session I attended was all about abstract thinking in exhibition planning. For many years, museums have typically focused on providing ‘cold hard facts’ as central components of their exhibitions. While this is obviously still of vital importance, especially in the case of science and medicine museums, the session facilitators pushed us to think about how thematic and abstract ideation could help create more dynamic and engaging displays. At the end of the day, studies have shown that informational, text heavy exhibitions are not the best way to convey ideas. Thus, it is useful to consider interpretive methodologies that ask broader questions, provoke conversations, and deal with more abstract themes in order to make content more relevant and engaging. This way of thinking struck a chord with me in terms of the Museum of Health Care collections, which can be used to address a number of themes related to the human experience of health and disease.

Image 5Overall, these sessions helped to focus my thoughts and gave me ideas moving forward as a curator. I was also lucky enough to meet many interesting and influential people, as well as listen to a keynote address by Indigenous artist Kent Monkman, who spoke eloquently about the need to decolonize museums across the country. These experiences inspired me to think bigger and to consider the ways in which our organizations can continue to move beyond insular, traditional ways of thinking.

The Canadian Medical Association publishes policies and briefs on a wide range of health topics, representing the position of the CMA's members.

This database has long been available online, but is now powered by our Andornot Discovery Interface.

The new site is available at https://policybase.cma.ca and is hosted by Andornot within our Managed Hosting service.

CMA-Policies-AnDI

The site offers users the features they expect from a modern search engine: spelling corrections, "did you mean" search suggestions, relevancy ranked results powered by sophisticated algorithms, and facets such as topic, year, and type of policy to quickly and easily refine a search.

Policies are available as PDFs linked from search results, and the full text of each PDF is indexed and searchable too. If any search words are found in the full text, a snippet of the relevant passage showing the words in context is displayed in search results. The user may then click a single button to open the policy in their browser with their search words pre-highlighted, where ever they may appear in the document. This feature saves the user from having to download, open and search all over again within the PDF for the relevant passage.

The site is available in English and French - not only the user interface, but all the metadata and PDFs too - allowing users to search and fully interact with the site in either language.

Policies are managed in a DB/TextWorks database by CMA Library staff. 

Updating the CMA PolicyBase was long overdue. We needed to update the interface and functionality to make it more user friendly. While it seemed like an overwhelming task, Jonathan guided us through each step of the process.  We're really pleased with the end result, so much so that we're now converting other databases to the Andornot Discovery Interface.

-- Debbie Ayotte, Associate Director, Policy Research & Support, Canadian Medical Association

A separate Physician Workforce Survey search engine is available at https://surveys.cma.ca and is also powered by our Andornot Discovery Interface and hosted by Andornot.

Contact Andornot for information management and search solutions for your medical and other collections.

For the third year in a row, Andornot is pleased to award a Professional Development Grant to a working professional, to aid them in attending a conference or workshop.

This year’s recipient of the $1,000 grant is Marla Dobson, Curator of the Museum of Health Care in Kingston, ON.

Marla-Dobson

In her application for the grant, Marla writes:

As the Curator for the Museum of Health Care at Kingston, I have responsibility for planning, organizing, and supervising exhibition development, collections development and maintenance, as well as programming support. I care for a collection of 40,000 objects related to the history of medicine and health care in Canada. I also act as an ambassador for the museum, building its public profile within the regional community as well as at national and even international events.

The collection is available at https://mhc.andornot.com, with a search interface developed from our Andornot Discovery Interface, and hosted by our Managed Hosting service.

Marla adds:

I wish to attend the Canadian Museums Association National Conference because it is vital that I develop and expand my professional network within the Canadian museum community. I am new in my position and as an emerging professional, wish to expose myself to workshops and networking events that will firstly, improve my ability to be a successful curator, and secondly, help me make connections with other organizations with which we could partner on projects and exhibitions.

Andornot strongly believes in the value of attending conferences to foster professional development. We attend events across Canada all year long to learn about new trends and technologies, meet with clients, and share our expertise with like-minded folks.

We receive many excellent applications for this grant each year and face a tough decision in choosing just one. We thank all who showed an interest in the grant and only wish we could send everyone to a conference.

We look forward to meeting you at one of the conferences we’ll be attending this year.

Version 5.1 of the VuFind Open Source discovery software has just been released. This minor release adds several new features and fixes.

Some key additions:

  • Configurable user account notifications, making activity (such as fines, available holds, overdues, etc.) more readily visible to the user.
  • A richer, fully customizable user feedback system, allowing the creation of custom forms in the VuFind interface for collecting not just feedback, but also purchase suggestions, survey responses, or anything else the administrator configures.
  • Optional dynamic DOI-based link augmentation in search results (currently supporting Third Iron's BrowZine service, but also extensible for other applications).
  • An experimental driver for integration with the FOLIO platform, available for early adopters (but subject to change as the platform evolves).
  • Better code generation tools, increasing the ease of creating new VuFind plug-ins.
  • Full Vietnamese language support in the user interface.

Additionally, several bug fixes, new configuration options, performance enhancements and minor improvements have been incorporated. Full details of this release are available at https://vufind.org/wiki/changelog#release_51_-_2_4_2019

Andornot offers development and hosting of VuFind as part of our Managed Hosting service. VuFind is an ideal entry-level discovery interface for small special libraries with primarily biblipgrahic information, provding the style of search experience users expect in 2019. For other kinds of cultural information, we recommend our Andornot Discovery Interface.

Contact us to discuss VuFind, hosting and our other solutions for managing and searching cultural information.

Recently we had a new client come to us looking for help with several subscription-based VuFind sites they manage, and ultimately to have us host them as part of our managed hosting service. This client had a unique challenge for us: 3 million records, available as tab-separated text files of up to 70,000 records each.

Most of the data sets we work with are relatively small: libraries with a few thousand records, archives with a few tens of thousands, and every so often, databases of a few hundred thousand, like those in the Arctic Health bibliography.

While VuFind and the Apache Solr search engine that powers it (and also powers our Andornot Discovery Interface) have no trouble with that volume of records, transforming the data from hundreds of tab-separated text files into something Solr can use, in an efficient manner, was a pleasant challenge.

VuFind has excellent tools for importing traditional library MARC records, using the SolrMarc tool to post data to Solr. For other types data, such as records exported from DB/TextWorks databases, we’ve long used the PHP-based tools in VuFind that use XSLTs to transform XML into Solr's schema and post it to Solr. While this has worked well, XSLTs are especially difficult to debug, so we considered alternatives.

For this new project, we knew we needed to write some code to manipulate the 3 million records in tab-separated text files into XML, and we knew from our extensive experience with Solr that it's best to post small batches of records at a time, in separate files, rather than one large post of 3 million! So we wrote a python script to split up the source data into separate files of about 1,000 records each, and also remove invalid characters that had crept in to the data over time (this data set goes back decades and has likely been stored in many different character encodings on many different systems, so it's no surprise there were some gremlins).

Once the script was happily creating Solr-ready XML files, rather than use VuFind's PHP tools and an XSLT to index the data, it just seemed more straightforward to push the XML directly to Solr. For this, we wrote a bash shell script that uses the post tool that ships with Solr to iterate through the thousands of data files and push each to Solr, logging the results.

The combination of a python script to convert the tab-separated text files into Solr-ready XML and a bash script to push it to Solr worked extremely well for this project. Python is lightning fast at processing text and pushing data directly to Solr is definitely faster than invoking XSLT transformations.

This approach would work well for any data. Python is a very forgiving language to develop with, making it easy and quick to write scripts to process any data source. In fact, since this project, we've used Python to manipulate a FileMaker Pro database export for indexing in our Andornot Discovery Interface (also powered by Apache Solr) and to harvest data from the Internet Archive and Online Archive of California, for another Andornot Discovery Interface project (watch this blog for news of both when they launch).

We look forward to more challenges like this one! Contact us for help with your own VuFind, Solr and similar projects.

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