OA begins at home…

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I spent the better part of Tuesday working on a metasearch service that we’re adding to our award-winning research portals (just found out we’ve won an innovation award from a higher-ed trade publication–but details are embargoed until August). Anyway, I made all sorts of interesting discoveries about federated searching but the one I was still thinking about on the drive home dealt with open access and the mixed message I think many libraries are probably sending.

Huh? A little background…

I’m working with Deep Web Technologies to build narrowly-focused metasearch engines for our various research portals (if you want to take a peek, you can go to my “testportal” and try a search of the ‘history’ engine we’re building–but no comments, it’s still quite a preliminary piece of unfinished business). This week’s problem has been figuring out an efficient and infinitely scalable way to deal with content that needs to be proxied (the library world’s version of DRM).

As I was banging in searches and exploring result sets, I kept hitting journal articles that I assumed were available in e-journal form despite the fact that outbound SFX links suggested otherwise.
SFX befuddled
Testing a history collection, my mind eventually drifted to thoughts of my friend Roy Rosenzweig. I entered his name in the search box and among the hits that began flowing back, I noticed an interview from 2000 that appeared in the journal Left History.

America: History & Life (the source of the link) supports OpenURL so I clicked our SFX link and ultimately received the “Sorry, no match for ISSN# 1192-1927.” By this time I decided I really wanted to read the interview with Roy so I jumped over to Google and in less time than it takes to finish this sentence I had the full text:


Damn. Not only was it available online but it was hosted on an OJS system. Thinking I’d stumbled onto an oversight I dashed off an email to our e-resources group, asking that this journal be included in our SerialsSolutions e-journal database (which serves as the datastore behind our e-journal finder). I went back to work.

Ten mintues later I hit another one…found the text on the web in a couple of minutes but our SFX system was clueless. I again notified our e-resources group. Just as I was beginning to suspect this might not be a needle-in-haystack situation after all, I got this email from our collection development group:

“You’ve raised an interesting issue that we’re still thinking about…what freely-available e-journals to include in our systems.”

That’s when I realized that for all the Web 2.x buzz maybe things haven’t changed all that much. We might call them discovery tools but clearly many of us still think of them as public interfaces to our inventory control systems. Somehow, I think you approach it differently if you’re trying to solve the task of connecting researchers with information no matter where it resides (and no matter who’s paying for it).

I came away from today’s experience feeling that I’d probably uncovered one of the fault lines between yesterday’s “master of inventory” orientation and the place where we really need to be.