U of A Library to switch search engine this May

This May, the University of Alberta library will return to a proprietary search system it has used in the past, allowing users to look for articles in the main search bar.

The University of Alberta library search engine is changing come May. 

For the past six years the library’s search engine has been open source — meaning the library staff can freely access and change the software’s code. On May 1, the library will switch their search engine back to one owned by EBSCO, a proprietary software that they previously used from 2012-15. The most noticeable difference for library users will be a single search function that will allow them to look for books and articles simultaneously. More in-depth changes will happen over the coming year as the library continues to consult with students and researchers.  

Sam Popowich, library search engine transition lead and head of discovery and web services, said the library is still very committed to open source applications. 

“When we moved to open source in 2015, it was a good opportunity to go our own way and build a service that we thought would work well for students,” he said. 

Now, six years later, Popowich said that the library’s open source software is “getting a little bit old.”

“It makes sense to take a step back for the moment and move to something that we’ve used in the past,” he said. “[The EBSCO search engine is] something we’re comfortable with, that we know that people can use fairly easily while we plan for the future in terms of what a library search can and should do for students.”

In terms of expense, Popowhich said that proprietary software is often more expensive upfront, but open source can be more expensive when it comes to enlisting staff developers to build the application. 

With these pros and cons in mind, Popowich said there are “two competing visions” regarding which software is better in academia. For example, he said some people believe that the “stability” and “professional quality” of proprietary software is more reliable. 

“Then there are those of us like me,” Popowich said. “[I believe] that open source means that we have more control and flexibility. We can tweak things as we want.”

When asked if, as a proponent of open source software, Popowich finds the temporary move to proprietary software disappointing, he said in some ways “it is.”

“I put a lot of time and energy and work into the open source version that we are currently running,” he said. “But weighing everything, and knowing that there are other open source applications we’re continuing to support, I think this is an okay move for right now.”

Those open source applications include the Education and Research Archive (ERA), a repository for faculty research and graduate theses, and the Research Data Management system, an open source tool that the library has built in consultation with other organizations.

Change should be “fairly intuitive” for library users, Popowich said

Popowich said using the EBSCO search engine on May 1 should be “fairly intuitive” for library users. 

“There are some design changes between the existing system and scope, but they’re not major from my perspective,” he said. 

He added that the library planned the changeover for when winter semester exams were over, and spring term was just beginning. 

“We will try to minimize the disruption to all of the users,” he said. “As always, if anyone runs into trouble, they should definitely feel free to go to the ask us section of the homepage and let us know.”

Rachel Narvey

Rachel is the Gateway's 2020-21 Staff Reporter. This summer, she will complete her MA program in English and Film studies before returning to the U of A in the fall as an Education student. In her spare time she writes poetry and watches Jeopardy. You can often find her sitting alone, eating a burrito.

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