Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Usability of the VuFind Next-Generation Online Catalog, by Jennifer Emanuel

The VuFind open–source, next-generation catalog system was implemented by the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois as an alternative to the WebVoyage OPAC system. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign began offering VuFind alongside WebVoyage in 2009 as an experiment in next-generation catalogs. Using a faceted search discovery interface, it offered numerous improvements to the UIUC catalog and focused on limiting results after searching rather than limiting searches up front. Library users have praised VuFind for its Web 2.0 feel and features. However, there are issues, particularly with catalog data.


Demian Katz said...

As the current lead developer of the VuFind project at Villanova University, I was pleased to see Jennifer Emanuel’s excellent “Usability of the VuFind Next-Generation Online Catalog” article published in the March, 2011 issue of Information Technology and Libraries. Her insights about the differences between next-generation and earlier catalog systems ring true across the discovery landscape, and her detailed notes on the study’s methodology should prove helpful in allowing other institutions (including Villanova) to formally assess their own installations of VuFind. However, since this study was carried out two years ago, I thought it would be helpful to provide some updates on the current state of the VuFind project.

Some updates on the facts:

• In 2009, four institutions listed VuFind as a primary catalog interface; in 2011, this number has increased nearly tenfold and continues to grow rapidly. VuFind has established a strong international presence, so the numbers may be higher than we realize, especially as the package gains traction in the developing world.
• The version of VuFind studied in the article was a “release candidate” version, 1.0RC1. The final VuFind 1.0 was released in July, 2010, and VuFind 1.1 is due in March, 2011. A new major release, VuFind 2.0, is currently in the planning stages and should drastically modernize the architecture of the package.

Obviously, with multiple releases since the study, many new features have been added to VuFind. Here are some current VuFind features that address some of the issues brought up in the study.

• Searching by call number.
• Organizing saved favorites into multiple lists.
• Exporting records to citation management software like RefWorks, EndNote and Zotero.
• Limiting searches by publication date.
• Snippets in search result listings to clarify why records match the search query.

Also, while the article does briefly address this point, it is important to emphasize that there is a distinction between VuFind the generic product and VuFind installed at a particular library. The software comes with a fairly simple theme when initially installed, and it is designed to be easy to customize. No single usability study can really address the generic product, since no two instances of VuFind look alike. Obviously, most installations of VuFind share many common features, but administrators have a lot of freedom to configure things as they like, and quite a few of the VuFind installations “in the wild” are extremely distinctive and visually striking.

Thanks again for taking the time and space to provide coverage of VuFind. I hope that these notes are helpful. If there are any questions about the state of the project, please visit or feel free to contact me at

Demian Katz
Library Technology Development Specialist, Villanova University

Jonathan Rochkind said...

How do I find the article this blog post abstracts? Not only is there no link to the article, there isn't even citation data! Can someone give me the volume/issue/etc, or a url?

Andy said...

If you click on the title of the blog post, you'll go to the table of contents page for the issue the article appears in.