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Umlaut is an open source project originally developed by Ross Singer while at Georgia Tech, and subsequently worked on quite a bit by Jonathan Rochkind of Johns Hopkins University. Umlaut is sometimes called a “link-resolver front end” or a “middle-tier link resolver”. In fact, the Umlaut is a link resolver, in the sense that it receives OpenURL requests–usually representing a citation for a scholarly work–and responds with information on services available related to that citation–most significantly, with electronic availability. However, unlike most typical link resolver products (such as SFX), the Umlaut does not manage it’s own “knowledge base” of information on what titles an institution possesses from what vendors, and how to link to them. Umlaut relies on SFX–accessed through the SFX API–for that information and service.
Umlaut provides a great deal of flexibility with the user interface. Despite any changes to SFX our interface should keep working with little or no modification. It also gives us flexibility to create interfaces that would have been difficult or impossible to create solely through the SFX template system.
For instance, when a user clicks on a link resolver link, they can be taken directly to the article they want, not just to a menu. Umlaut provides a menu in a frame at the top in case the link didn’t work and they need other options, or in case they want to access other link resolver services despite having the full text.
Umlaut still provides a ‘full’ link resolver menu too, which the user can choose to see, and which is shown when no full text is available. The menu provides location and availability information on physical holdings directly on the screen–no click necessary to see it (at least when there’s an ISSN match; if there’s no ISSN or ISBN match, a link is provided to a keyword search in the catalog instead). See http://findit.library.jhu.edu/go/30504?umlaut.skip_resolve_menu=false for an example. It also imports any URLs found in our catalog in a MARC 856 field, in addition to those in SFX.
Umlaut provides a few more value-added services too. When appropriate, Umlaut provides links to look up a periodical citation in Ulrich’s or OCLC Worldcat. For a book citation, Umlaut provides a link to Amazon, OCLC Worldcat, or isbndb to find other libraries with the book or the best online price for purchase. Links are put on the page only if a valid destination exists.
It’s also possible to integrate Umlaut into an OPAC, so not only the full text links, but also those ’see also’ links (to WorldCat, isbndb, Amazon, etc) show up.
We have succeeded in de-coupling the link resolver knowledge base (still held within SFX in our case) with the link resolver software (Umlaut, which provides some services beyond what SFX does).Any other link resolver with an API, Umlaut could be hooked up to also, in theory, if someone wanted to write the connector. Could that lead to a commoditization of the link resolver knowledge base_ so we could buy knowledge base maintenance from whoever does the best job without worrying about the quality of their software? Theoretically, maybe some day.
* Integrate my various local document delivery services into menu of options when full text isn’t available.
We are looking for more development partners for Umlaut. I say ‘development partners’ because it is still at the stage where it’s going to be a bit of work to get it deployed–and you’re probably going to have to write code to get it to talk to your OPAC. At this point, to use/participate in Umlaut, your library probably needs to have a programmer on staff who can devote some time to it (you don’t necessarily need a ruby/rails expert; I wasn’t before I started working with Umlaut). But I am interested in providing support and help for people to do that—and I’m interested in people who want to add even more services to Umlaut. The more institutions we can get using Umlaut, if we can build a community, then our investment in the software is more secure, it’s more likely to continue as a successful and full featured project. Interested? Talk to me.