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* Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Sirsi Breaks Open the RSS Flood Gates!

I've been crawling out of my skin with anticipation, waiting to be able to announce this, and now it's finally official! Sirsi will be the first ILS vendor to offer native RSS feeds out of the catalog, and they've gone the whole nine yards in terms of searching! On the Press Releases page, initial information can be found in the Sirsi Enterprise Portal Solution featuring Sirsi Rooms 2.0 PDF document. There should be a feature-based press release up soon, but here are some early details.

The feeds will be part of their Rooms 2.0 and Enterprise Portal Solution (ESP) release around March. Features will include:

  • The ability to take any OPAC search strategy and convert it into an RSS feed. Because text search engine for our ILS system enables a user to embed MARC and other field codes in the search string, a user could construct a search that searches against title, author, subject, ISBN {020} and any other indexed field within the ILS.
  • The ability to create an RSS feed based on a search of any sources within SingleSearch, Sirsi's MuseGlobal (Gary's sponsor) based federated search product (EBSCO, LoCZ, etc.).
  • The ability to create an RSS feed of Google results.
  • The ability to create an RSS feed of our 'Best of the Web'.
  • The ability to sort the results by date, author, title, or relevance, where applicable.

I'll update this later today as I get more information, but I'm just bursting at the seams and had to post this. And luckily, my home library is a Sirsi customer!

Major congratulations to Sirsi and its libraries!!!

January 25, 2005, Update: I've been emailing with Stephen Abram, Vice President, Innovation, at Sirsi, and he's been answering questions that have come up since the announcement. For me right now, the most important point is that reading the feeds will not be confined to within Sirsi's software. In other words, users will be able to create feeds for everything mentioned above and then subscribe to them in Bloglines or other third party aggregators. Beyond this, I'm going to quote Stephen extensively so as not to put words in his mouth, but I'll offer a few thoughts at the end.

Stephen Abram on whether the Rooms module is required:

"Let's start at the beginning.

Sirsi Rooms is a content package.

Sirsi Rooms Builder lets you build rooms of content.

Sirsi EPS (Enterprise Portal Solution) is our new interface and portal solution.

EPS includes one 'Room,' the Reading Rooms that would be of interest to public libraries the most.

You would migrate from iBistro to this. There is a migration path and EPS would be required (at this point) for RSS features. I am checking to see if we are adding RSS functionailty to the next upgrade to iBistro. That hasn't been decided yet.

It's more complicated than it looks, especially since there is soooo much more in EPS than RSS. It supports hundreds of new formats and search stuff as well as e-learning standards. That's part of the reason that RSS was sort of buried in the EPS announcment. As with all software and interfaces, there comes a point where you have to break the elastic to adopt the latest innovations. Otherwise you just end up band-aiding things and not building them properly to adapt to new inventions/users trends. We don't want to do that."

Ken Poore adds:

"It's important to also make the distinction here that we are offering RSS feeds of MORE than just the OPAC, hence its reach is beyond just iBistro. We can create feeds from SingleSearch, Google, our 'Best of Web', and other Z39.50-based catalogs (again via SingleSearch). So adding it to iBistro would actually narrow the breadth of the RSS features on EPS. However, the decision to offer OPAC-based RSS searching in iBistro has not been made.

Personally I think that RSS feeds of subscription databases is at least as cool and useful as RSS out of the OPAC, since subscription databases are far more dynamic than most OPACs."

Also, the feeds will be RSS 2.0, most likely to handle the depth and breadth of the searching they will be offering. I'm really torn on this issue because I understand David King's point about being able to integrate feeds into an existing web site, but I was also impressed with Stephen's description of the software as Sirsi's attempt to "put the librarian back in the web site." And I make my living band-aiding stuff, so I'm all for building it right the first time.

I think the obvious answer is to accommodate both sides by expending the resources to add basic RSS feeds to iBistro/iLink. That way, libraries that don't have the resources of a Kansas City Public Library or an academic library can use EPS to do all of the heavy lifting, while David can incorporate the feeds into his already-developed web site.

So if you're a Sirsi customer and you want feeds from iBistro, I think you'll have to request it as a customer. Stephen also noted that they're working on patron data feeds for a future release of the MyLibrary module, so we'll have to see if those can be added to iBistro, too, but ultimately providing them is the right move because that's how it should be period. Patrons shouldn't be forced to give private data to a third-party service like Library ELF just to gain the convenience the library's ILS vendor doesn't understand they need to provide (and here I'm talking about RSS and email and text alerts). I say this as a very happy ELF user that gave up her patron data, L-O-V-E-S this service, and believes the owner doesn't want to be evil.

In addition, I find it very interesting that they are going so far with the RSS feeds as to include the federated searching component. A feed of single search across all of the library's resources - if the query is structured well enough - could be incredibly useful, and it definitely puts the database aggregators on notice that if they don't do it, others will. It actually makes sense to do this in the OPAC, though, so that you can handle authentication there, which isn't too far off from an idea I proposed to Dinah Sanders at the Internet Librarian conference last year.

I still need to think through a lot of this, and I know vendors will hate the thought because they'll think it gets away from core services, but it would be interesting to be able to offer patrons an RSS aggregator via the OPAC/library's web site, in part so that they don't have such a steep learning curve. You can do the authentication there, so just let users subscribe there, as well, which puts the library at the center of their information universe. I thought newspapers would be the first to do this, but they don't seem to be understanding the concept. It would be pretty cool if your library offered the equivalent of Bloglines with library resources at the core.

Does Sirsi really understand this model and that's what they're shooting for? It's definitely intriguing. Think of the information literacy courses you could teach using EPS... subscribing to various web sites, e-learning modules, the library's catalog, database searches, and even podcasting within the library's framework would be one hell of a resource. And of course, Sirsi's recent acquisition of Docutek adds librarian help throughout the whole thing (not that you couldn't add links to an external service, but this would be embedded throughout).

I'm definitely watching Sirsi to see where all of this is heading, and I can't wait to see the first feed from all of this go live. They've obviously been working on the overall pieces of this for quite a while, and hiring Stephen Abram was another good sign. I think Sirsi may actually "get it."

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