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The Catholic Research Resources Alliance (CRRA) is a collaborative effort initiated by a group of Catholic colleges and universities to share their resources electronically with librarians, archivists, researchers, scholars, and the general public, all who are interested in the Catholic experience.

CRRA VuFind

A website at https://www.catholicresearch.org provides information about CRRA, while a union catalogue of member resources, powered by the open-source VuFind discovery interface provides global, freely available access to rare, unique and/or uncommon materials in libraries, seminaries, special collections and archives. By electronically bringing together resources in many formats from many collections, the VuFind site enables easy, effective and global discovery of Catholic research resources.

The collection includes records uploaded in MARC, MARC XML and PastPerfect format, as well as records harvested directly from member systems using the OAI-PMH protocol.

The VuFind system was previously hosted by one of the member universities, but is now hosted and co-managed by Andornot and CRRA.

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.

Version 5.0 of VuFind, the popular open-source discovery interface, was released today, a year after the last major release (4.0). 

This version improves the software’s compatibility with recent language and operating system releases and adds several significant new features.

Some key additions:

  • New features to improve compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), including optional user-initiated account removal and support for encrypted session data.
  • Significant improvements to the "Channels" interface for serendipitous resource discovery, including a streamlined user interface and several new channel providers (such as "new items" and "trending items").
  • Improved support for rendering geographic data.
  • PHP 7.2 compatibility.
  • Optional user access to their own account history.
  • Upgrades to the latest Solr, SolrMarc and Zend Framework component versions.

Additionally, several bug fixes, new configuration options, performance enhancements and minor improvements have been incorporated.

Although VuFind was largely developed by and for academic libraries, we've found applications for it in other organizations, including smaller specialized libraries. Our blog has details of selected projects. In general, we recommend VuFind for organizations with purely bibliographic records and little or no need for customization, a custom graphic design, integration of other features or content, etc. For organizations with those requirements, our Andornot Discovery Interface (AnDI) is a perfect choice.

In comparison to the release schedule for VuFind Andornot’s own Andornot Discovery Interface, which shares the same Apache Solr search engine as VuFind, is continuously upgraded with each project we use it for. Earlier sites built from AnDI can be upgraded as needed, and we’ve begin doing so upon request by clients. Upgrades include any new features and bug fixes added or made to AnDI since the initial build of the site, plus upgrades to key components, such as Solr, .Net versions, Javascript libraries, and more.

Contact us to learn more about VuFind or AnDI and how either might offer your users an improved search experience for your collections and resources.

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Over the past couple of years, Andornot has helped the Alaska Resources Library & Information Services (ARLIS) launch, then upgrade, a VuFind-powered catalog of Alaska North Slope natural gas pipeline work from the past 40 years. 

A second VuFind catalog has recently been added to the ARLIS site: the Susitna Doc Finder

The Susitna Doc Finder is a comprehensive catalog of documents that have resulted from every phase of the historic 1980s Susitna Hydroelectric Project (SuHydro Project), as well as those documents continually being produced since 2010 under the current Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project (SuWa Project).

Records for this catalog are managed in both a MARC cataloguing ILS, as well as a local Inmagic DB/TextWorks database. Exports from both are indexed nightly by VuFind, using heavily customized import mappings and additional fields and browse indexes. 

Almost all records link to PDF reports from the project. Text is extracted from these and indexed, to complement the excellent initial metadata. 

Cover images of these PDF reports are generated during indexing and appear in search results, in several sizes, both for visual interest, and to give a glimpse of a report before clicking to download it.

The web interface uses a VuFind theme built from the ever-popular Twitter Bootstrap responsive web framework. Almost all of Andornot's web projects use this or a similar responsive framework to provide the same level of access on devices of all sizes and shapes, from full-size desktop browsers down to tablets and phones.

Results from this VuFind system are also available through Google, as Google has crawled and indexed the VuFind system.

Further information:

Contact us to discuss options for a discovery interface style of search for your catalogue or other collection, using VuFind or the Andornot Discovery Interface.

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