VUFind “Midwest” User’s Group Meeting

An inaugural VUFind “Midwest” User’s Group Meeting was held Friday, September 3, and this posting outlines my perceptions of what happened there.

The “Catholic Portal” uses VUFind as its “discovery interface” and sometimes I feel starved for people with whom to discuss issues surrounding the application. I then got wind of VUFind’s use at Western Michigan University (WMU) as well as the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (U of M). Since WMU is half way between me and U of M I thought a “user’s group meeting” may be in order. A few calls were made, a few postings to a couple of mailing lists were written, and the meeting came to fruition.

There were nine of us in attendance:

  1. Bill Dueber (University of Michigan)
  2. Birong Ho (Western Michigan University)
  3. Dean Lingley (Purdue University)
  4. Eric Lease Morgan (University of Notre Dame)
  5. Keith Kelley (Western Michigan University)
  6. Matthew Riehle (Purdue University)
  7. Roy Zimmer (Western Michigan University)
  8. Scott Garrison (Western Michigan University)
  9. Tod Olson (University of Chicago)

The good folks from Purdue suffered through the entire 3 1/2 hour event via Skype. “Kudos to Dean and Matthew.”

As a group we discussed quite a number of things, listed here in more or less chronological order:

  1. straying from the code base – The hottest topic surrounded the difficulty of implementing VUFind version 1.0 given the fact that at least a couple of us have modified (“hacked”) previous versions to such a degree that implementing 1.0 was almost too much of a challenge. As one person said, “It might be easier to start all over with Blacklight rather than migrate my changes.” This does not mean anybody was dissatisfied with VUFind’s performance or many of its features. Record display is good. There is a distinct separation of inventory and OPAC. VUFind offers great flexibility, and public services staff seem very happy with the ease patron interfaces can be customized.
  2. Blacklight – Given that, the discussion turned to a comparison between VUFind and Blacklight. While the group seemed to have minimal experience with Blacklight a number of things were definitely seen in Blacklight’s favor, such as: a more disciplined community complete with project management, the insistence of regression testing before code submissions were included into the base, and regular conference calls. Much of this was summed up as the “open source conundrum” — the differences between free software, open source software, and community source.
  3. Solr – We then turned to a discusion of Solr since we all understood that VUFind and Blacklight were essentially client interfaces to the increasingly popular indexer/search engine. A number of us believed it was absolutely necessary to modify the underlying Solr schema in order to satisfy local needs. These modifications ran the gamut from what fields exist to how those fields are defined and filtered. We compared & contrasted the use of the stock query interface and the use of the Dismax handler. The indexing of data then led to a discussion how to handle diacritics, dates, and date ranges.
  4. miscellaneous – As the discussion wound down we we talked about various things such as systems administration tasks, and whether or not to move the Solr indexer to another host or implement it under a servlet container other than Jetty.

I told the group I was going to attend the VUFind User’s Group Meeting taking place at Villanova in a couple of weeks, and I asked for a short list of things I ought to share there — take aways:

  • governance – the VUFind community could use a bit more structure and the application of project management
  • patches – member-submitted patches need to be incorporated to the code to a greater degree; a couple of us felt our contributions were not accepted
  • authorities – a greater emphasis needs to be placed on integrating the profession’s good work done in regards to named authorities
  • local customizations – a possible solution to the “straying” issue may be the implementation of some sort of local code base, something Blacklight apparent has
  • “light” flavor – given the spectrum of programming skills available in libraries, some thought a VUFind “Light” may be in order
  • repository – there is a need for a central place for the community to share local hacks, normalization routines, changes to the Solr indexer, etc.

In summary, the meeting was definitely a success. Discussion was thorough and focused. I believe we used our time wisely, and no one went away thinking it had been wasted. I do not think the group was representative of the whole VUFind community. We were more skilled than most. We agreed that VUFINd is not broken, but we did outline a number of ways it could be improved. We all agreed that the implementation of VUFind in our institutions represents a giant step forward compared to where we were at least a few years ago. oss++

Author: Eric Lease Morgan

I am a librarian first and a computer user second. My professional goal is to discover new ways to use computers to provide better library services. I use much of my time here at the University of Notre Dame developing and providing technical support for the Catholic Research Resources Alliance -- the "Catholic Portal".