THINK LINK: OpenURL Report & Recommendations
June 11, 2003

Public Services Software Evaluation Work Group
Marty Kesselman, Chair
Ann Montanaro
Myoung Wilson
Mary Page, Consultant


Four years ago in 1999, the Rutgers University Libraries embarked on a major digital libraries initiative set forth in a document entitled A Bridge to the Future. In its Goals and Activities for Implementation, it states for improving access, "Create mechanisms to link catalog records to the digital full-text and to link electronic databases to library holdings."

This past year, the number one public service goal for the Libraries set by Cabinet and published in the Agenda for 11/17/02: "Improve access to electronic resources and services. Evaluate and recommend the purchase of OpenURL and other software to expand access to full-text and discovery of e-resources…"

The Public Services Software Evaluation Work Group was created by the Public Services Council to explore and consider an OpenURL solution for Rutgers. Members are Marty Kesselman, Chair, Ann Montanaro, and Myoung Wilson. Mary Page became a consultant to the working group because of her initiatives in this area. Jeanne Boyle, as an ad-hoc member of the working group was also involved in most of the group's deliberations.

Nationwide, most major ARL libraries have already purchased or are considering purchase of an OpenURL product. According to David Seaman of the Digital Library Federation, convenience for users is critical and there is dissatisfaction with the disconnection of our resources. OpenURL allows for the library to provide a service where users can interact across vendors in a streamlined and seamless way thus adding great value to our large investment in electronic resources.

OpenURL technology provides a critical opportunity that meets several of the service priorities of A Bridge to the Future, our planning document. In particular: OpenURL provides timely, accurate, and convenient delivery of information resources to the desktop in that users are linked to the appropriate copy of the article they need, OpenURL provides improved linkages to the full-text through our holdings information in IRIS supplemented by improved access to non- cataloged holdings information supplied by an OpenURL vendor; and digital resources developed by Rutgers faculty, such as databases or courseware packages can be OpenURL enabled to provide improved access to electronic full-text holdings rather than making use of stagnant links that change over time. The overarching goal is much improved access to the full-text collections the Libraries own or to which we provide access.

Meetings & Discussions

Several meetings and discussions were attended by working group members. The first of these series of meetings was with Davida Scharf who made a presentation to library faculty and staff on OpenURL technology in general and reviewed the work she had done as a consultant with Ramapo College. Davida was able to provide us with an overview of the technology and marketplace and offered suggestions that Rutgers University Libraries might consider the possibility of in-house development of open source software and thus provide leadership for other NJ academic libraries through VALE. A session was also held with Eric Hellman, the president of Openly Informatics and developer of the 1CATE OpenURL software that is now being marketed by ISI and being offered by SIRSI and others. Phone discussions with Princeton and NYU librarians regarding their implementation experiences with SFX were also conducted. Direct telephone discussions with Dave Stout, an SFX market representative were also held. Two meetings with Ebsco were held to demonstrate in an open forum and discuss their LinkSource product. Finally, there was an open demonstration and meeting with SIRSI to discuss their Rooms product which includes both a federated search product and OpenURL modules (from Openly Informatics). Ann Montanaro and Marty Kesselman attended OpenURL Day, which was sponsored by NISO in conjunction with the Palmer School of Library and Information Studies. PowerPoint presentations and further information is at the website at:


The working group recommends that Rutgers University Libraries should implement OpenURL technology if we are to follow service priorities and objectives of our digital library initiatives as set forth in 1999. The Rutgers Libraries have invested millions of dollars in our collections of electronic resources, in particular, electronic journals in full- text. Currently, however, this collection of ejournals can often be difficult to access via our numerous networked databases, packaged by different vendors with little consistency, and with the need to consult IRIS for holdings information. OpenURL, in most cases, provides immediate access for our users from a citation of interest to the appropriate copy they need, be it electronic full-text or in print.

OpenURL is not a search product at all. Instead, it is a mechanism for creating URLs based on metadata from an article citation and creating a link to the electronic full-text if it is available. The citation information contained in an OpenURL can also result in links to print holdings information, a document delivery form (when Rutgers does not own the item), and other services as determined by the library. Other services might include a web search of the author, a search of the journal title in Ulrich's, a cited-reference search in Web of Science, etc.

The backbone of OpenURL technology is the resolver or link server. The resolver interprets the OpenURL created and checks it against a data set (sometimes referred to as a knowledge base) of holdings information. Holdings information includes records of offerings from various full-text publishers, journals indexed in databases, as well as holdings information specific to the Rutgers University Libraries. The resolver functions can be maintained on a server on-site or can be hosted by the OpenURL vendor.

The resulting links from resolving the OpenURL can be customized by the library as to what is shown or not shown to the user, for example a document delivery option would only be shown if there were no Rutgers holdings for the specific article for which the user was looking.

OpenURL is a developing standard. OpenURL 0.1, which all current products support, provides a universal way to define citation information as a URL for the scholarly community. OpenURL 1.0 will be able to generalize this technology for information other than bibliographic citations. In order for OpenURL to work, databases must support the OpenURL standard. (The great majority of database producers are OpenURL compliant). However, any web-based resource can be a target.

Some concrete examples of what a generic OpenURL resolver can do, dependent on the library's implementation, might be useful:

Many other options are possible for linking and are totally up to the library as to if and when they display. For examples of OpenURL results from several vendors and homegrown systems, see systems/openurl/.

We Should Test Openurl Technology At Rutgers With Linksource From Ebsco

OpenURL is a fast emerging technology to enable localized citation linking solutions for digital collections. There are at east 10 vendors and there are likely to be many more! SFX, as a leader in this area, is a little ahead of the game in some of its offerings, but is the most expensive. Otherwise, the offerings of all other products are quite similar with some differences in the way the data sets are created and updated and the look and feel of the link results page shown to the user. The other vendors are in the process of developing most of the special options now offered by SFX, such as a direct citation search.

Rather than go through a comprehensive RFP process and commitment to a particular product, the working group recommends that it is in our best interest to try out the technology rather than try out a particular product. This was the same tact we took in developing our real-time reference service. Our initial focus will instead be on how we implement OpenURL technology at Rutgers and further investigation might continue regarding an open source initiative.

Ebsco not only has met the basic requirements of an OpenURL product offering for Rutgers Libraries, but they are unique in that they have offered us the opportunity to be a technology partner with them. They are offering us an extensive customized trial with lots of technical support on their end followed by a one-year free subscription to LinkSource and the possibility of a second free year. In a very tight budget year, the Ebsco offering allows us to implement OpenURL for the Rutgers community now rather than waiting for several years in the future. This offer will not likely be available at a later time. However, the fact that the product is free is not the only reason to go with LinkSource at this point in time. Several other factors are considered as follows:

Public & Technical Services Workload & Implications

No matter what product we implement, there will also be public service issues. First is input by public service librarians on the look and feel of the menu of choices displayed for the user, the actual links provided to the user and when those links should and should not display. Public service librarians will need to decide upon the specific terminology to use in several areas, for example, the "mouse-over" text, and other decisions about how links should be displayed and function will be required. Other issues involve reference and instruction. Not all database producers will show the OpenURL link on their database in a way that is clear to the user. For example with Web of Science, the OpenURL link does not display in their short citation list and only displays in the detailed record and then in a corner of the screen. Princeton librarians have agreed to share many of the materials they have developed for users related to OpenURL.

Technical Services staff will be responsible for the bulk of the preparation and implementation work. For the Ebsco product, there is a detailed configuration process that establishes the rules for accessing each resource. The power and effectiveness of LinkSource is only as good as its configuration.

The main task is identifying all of the resources we want to include in LinkSource. We have done a good deal of this work already in the development of our SerialsSolutions database and are in a strong position as a result to implement OpenURL. SerialsSolutions is still a work in progress, however, and at present, it is used only for staff applications. While we will be able to use the SerialsSolutions data as a starting point, we will still need to invest a fair amount of staff time to complete the full audit of all RU-ONLINE resources.

The audit of Rutgers resources plus the actual configuration of LinkSource will likely be performed by a team comprised of our digital resources coordinator, systems programmer, and the head of acquisitions. This is not a task for voucher or student assistants, because in-depth knowledge of our resources is required, and the learning curve is too steep. Ebsco provides good documentation and support, and they are offering an online tutorial that will help us get started. Although it will require a significant investment of staff time, we are confident that we can successfully configure LinkSource. The resources audit is something that we should complete anyway, and if we migrate from Ebsco in the future, we will own the database that we create through this process. This will be a good investment of staff time and resources.

Recommended Decision Timeline

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