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C’est fantastique! Impressions of Ex Libris’ 2014 Technical Seminar

posted Jun 12, 2014, 7:58 PM by Rowena McKernan   [ updated Jun 13, 2014, 11:25 AM by Ben DeCrease ]
By Heather Jean Uhl  ~ Everett Community College


I was fortunate to attend the 2013 CLAMS conference, otherwise I wouldn’t have heard Dale Burke’s enthusiastic recount of the 2013 ELUNA conference. I’m relatively new to my institution and it’s been a while since I’ve used the Voyager integrated library system. Encouraged by the promise of, “Hands-on training from… developers, trainers and product experts,” I applied for and received a grant from EvCC’s Faculty Development Grant Committee to attend Ex Libris’ Technical Seminar in Montreal, Canada. Held Monday, April 28 and Tuesday, April 29 at the historic Reine Elizabeth Fairmont Hotel as a precursor to the ELUNA conference; Technical Seminar did not disappoint.

EvCC was in the first cohort of ORCA libraries to implement Primo in the 2013-14 academic year. While I’m not a systems librarian, because of my experience with integrated library systems and MARC I partner with our IT specialist to troubleshoot display issues in our OPAC and now in Primo. In hopes of better supporting this work, the first session I attended was on Voyager/Primo Interaction. Presented by Paul McBride, Primo Support Analyst, and Amy Rood, Voyager Senior Support Analyst, the session was a factual whirlwind describing how to get data out of Voyager and into Primo. Full disclosure: I might sound tech savvy, but most of the material flew right over my head. None-the-less, I had serious a-ha moments!

I now have a better understanding of how MARC data is harvested; restructured into MARC XML, and piped into Primo Normalized XML (PNX), the record structure used to display information in Primo. That alone made the session worthwhile. However, the most important thing I took away from this session was a different perspective on Primo. For a while I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around the difference between discovery layers like Primo and OPACs like WebVoyage. In a lateral satori moment, I had my most significant a-ha moment regarding this quandary in the Voyager/Primo interaction session. Funny that it came in the form of an SAT analogy. Our catalog records are to the OPAC what citations are to a periodical database. We still need the OPAC to support our catalog because there are some things that Primo can’t do, such as class reserves. Primo doesn’t replace the OPAC, it’s meant to supplement it.

What good then is Primo? Primo supports what I’m beginning to think of as exploratory searching, which is information seeking behavior we all experience at the beginning of a research project. Being able to get a sense of what is available on a topic in all formats can be extremely helpful for exploring possibilities. This is the strength and the benefit of discovery layers like Primo. Instead of having to search several separate databases, discovery layers provide patrons with a single interface in which they can discover many resources in multiple formats. The discover layer links the patron out to the original databases that hold those resources where richer interfaces provide more description and better access. I’m intrigued by the implications this holds for information literacy instruction.

This shift in thinking turned my mind to another quandary. In the past I have been reluctant to upload MARC records for our eBooks and streaming videos subscriptions directly into our catalog for fear of overwhelming our permanent collection. However, it seems such a shame, because it would be extremely helpful to patrons have that information integrated and discoverable. Upon seeing in this session how easily outside sources of data can be harvested, normalized, and piped into Primo, I was delighted by the prospect of using Primo to make these resources discoverable. Furthermore, Primo partners with many existing vendors, so it may be as simple as turning the collection on rather than importing it from outside. I’m currently working with our IT Specialist to pursue this possibility.

Another fascinating session I attended was EDI vs. EOD for order management, led by Donna Smith, Implementation and Training Consultant. Electronic data interchange (EDI) is a function that exists inside the Voyager Acquisitions module. It can be used to send order data directly from Voyager to a vendor. Instead of duplicating work by setting up an order in a vendor’s online module, then having to create it again in Voyager, you can achieve both at the same time. Furthermore, the burden of manual entry can be lessened by using the subsequent embedded order data (EOD). Vendors will respond to these communications with EOD files, which include POs, bib records, and even invoice data. With a bit of set-up you can use bulk import to automatically create POs and their associated bib records without manual entry. This process is also scalable, and can be used for both small and large orders.

Split into two parts, the first session overviewed EDI/EOD possibilities in Voyager acquisitions. The second part was a brainstorming and discussion session. As a group we were able to pose and talk through various scenarios exploring the uses of EDI and EOD. The way this session was set up is exactly why Technical Seminar is so valuable. The seminars invite peer/trainer collaboration and conversation to build knowledge that supports problem solving. As a first time attendee it was so very refreshing to see a conference dedicated to practical skill building rather than over-reaching theory.

As a technical services librarian this kind of interaction is true nourishment for professional practice. If you’ve never been to Technical Seminar I urge you to go. I’m completely sold on Ex Libris’ Technical Seminar. I hope to attend again next year, and this time perhaps I can stay longer for the rest of the ELUNA conference. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you there? ^_^
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