v.23 #1 NISO IOTA: Improving OpenURLs Through Analytics, in Context

by Adam L. Chandler (Database Management & E-Resources Research Librarian, Central Library Operations, Cornell University Library, 110B Olin Library, Ithaca, NY 14853-5301; Phone: 607-255-5760) alc28@cornell.edu   @alc28 on Twitter  

The OpenURL 1.0 specification was finalized in 2004 (National Information Standards Organization, 2004). The research that underpins OpenURL reaches back into the 1990s, when Herbert Van De Sompel, working with colleagues at Ghent University, demonstrated an alternative to static, bidirectional linking: dynamic reference linking (Van de Sompel and Hochstenbach, 1999). The problem Van De Sompel and others had to solve was how to break out of the fragile, proprietary, bilateral linking relationships between licensed content providers to make linking to the “appropriate copy” (Beit-Arie et al, 2001.) possible. OpenURL was a brilliant and elegant solution to the appropriate copy problem. Format a URL using standard name/ value pairs and send it to a library link resolver. That is, shift the burden of maintenance. Have the link resolver — software designed for the task — figure out how to link to the full-text content, based on the local library holdings. The solution looks obvious to us in 2011 because OpenURL linking is so pervasive. Thousands of libraries around the world use link resolvers. By one estimate, some one billion OpenURLs are sent to link resolvers annually (HangingTogether Blog, 2009). It is an integral part of the library technology fabric, on par with an OPAC or A-Z ejournal list. There is a problem, however: OpenURL links fail. Frequently. In 2007 UKSG commissioned a survey that exposed the extent of this problem. James Culling noted:  

“72% of respondents to the online survey either agreed or strongly agreed that a significant problem for link resolvers is the generation of incomplete or inaccurate OpenURLs by databases (for example, A&I products). OpenURLs may be broken on account of insufficient or incorrect metadata that leads to erroneous results in the link resolver’s service menu or prevents the resolver from creating a sufficiently deep link to a target site. One librarian interviewed commented that his experience with some sources was so bad that he refused to enable OpenURL links from them, as he did not wish to expose his end users to the problems” (Culling, 2007, p. 33).    

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