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of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 31, No. 1    October/November 2004

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The Scholars Portal Project: A June 2004 Update
by Sarah Michalak and Mary E. Jackson

Sarah Michalak is university librarian and associate provost for university libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She can be reached at sarah_michalak@unc.edu.

Mary E. Jackson is director of collections and access programs, Association of Research Libraries (ARL). She can be reached at may@arl.org.

The Scholars Portal Project, a collaborative project among seven members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and Fretwell-Downing, Inc. (FD), evolved from discussions at the 1999 ARL/OCLC Strategic Issues Forum where the concern that libraries needed to maintain a presence on the Web was voiced. ARL subsequently established the ARL Scholars Portal Working Group and Jerry Campbell, dean of the University of Southern California Libraries, articulated the need and called for collaborative action among ARL members in his 2002 white paper.

Announced in May 2002, the project is a three-year collaborative effort between FD and the University of Arizona (UA), Arizona State University (ASU), University of California-San Diego (UCSD), Dartmouth College, Iowa State University (ISU), University of Southern California (USC) and the University of Utah. The participants have implemented ZPortal, Z2Web and several other FD products. FD is contributing development resources to enhance the products, and at the end of the project, the final products will be tested against the vision articulated by the ARL Scholars Portal Working Group. The initial focus of the project was cross-domain searching, but the participants hope to be able to link to online learning environments, digital references services, etc. The project will also test new models of collaboration in a complex, technical environment.

All sites have functional implementations. ASU, UA, ISU and Utah have released the software campus-wide, and the other three sites have limited releases. Over the first 18 months of the project, participants installed software, learned how to select and configure Web targets, established organization and communication channels, and began identifying areas for additional development. A two-part organization structure manages the project. The Project Managers Group (PMG), which includes one representative from each participant, handles the day-to-day issues. The PMG is co-chaired by Krisellen Maloney, UA, and Fred Gulden, ISU. The overall project direction is managed by the program board, which includes the project managers, the library deans and directors, and representation from FD and ARL.

Each site has the ability to configure and customize the software to meet local needs. Since authentication is a key component of the implementation, several variations have emerged. Dartmouth adopted PKI and USC adopted Shibboleth. UCSD and several others are exploring how to integrate an external OpenURL resolver, while ISU has implemented FD's OpenURL resolver, OL2.

In spring 2004 the sites began installing version 3.0 of ZPortal. This version provides the foundation for the additional development contributed by FD as well as providing an IP authentication capability. Participants have continued to identify and agree on Web targets and now have a critical mass of key Web resources. FD is learning how to do multiple, and sometimes simultaneous, software installations.

The Project Managers Group has identified three areas of additional FD development. First, the group wants to integrate ZPortal and course or learning management software. As defined, the development will permit a portlet to be added to any Web or courseware page and, from the courseware page, will permit searching of an existing profile in ZPortal. A second area relates to increased support for standard targets, with the ability to move between the native search screen and the ZPortal screen. This area of development will provide a bridge between OAI-compliant resources and the ZPortal software. Result set management is the third development priority. Participants anticipate this enhancement will permit sorting based on date and availability of full-text, enable a more unified presentation of OpenURL results and holdings within the bibliographic record, and integrate the OpenURL resolver with interlibrary loan and document delivery functionality.

Although much of the focus has been technical in nature, the project managers have benefited from the collaborative nature of the project. Working together, the managers and their staff have developed an open and regular communication channel among the participants. They have traded tips and hints on technical challenges and have served as resources for others. For the information technology (IT) staff, this project has provided a unique testbed environment where they are able to work with their peers on cutting-edge technology. The participants have had an opportunity to experiment with metasearching technology and contribute to the national discussions about metasearching.

This brief summary highlights only a few of the key elements of the Scholars Portal Project. The participants are posting regular status reports and updates on the Scholars Portal Project page. In addition, the ARL Portal Applications Working Group's survey report, The Current Status of Portal Applications in ARL Libraries: ARL Portal Applications Working Group Final Report, includes additional details on specific participants.


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