Sherlock System to Enhance Library Searches

Lane Barton

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As members of the Whitman community return from winter break, the Penrose Library staff is eager to share the new library search system that has been online since Jan. 8. Named Sherlock, the new system is the product of a three-year project for schools in the Orbis Cascade Alliance which aims to integrate the library systems of all 37 institutions.

“We’re really excited to introduce it and to hear from students, faculty and staff who are using it about what they find most useful,” said Instructional and Data Services Librarian Amy Blau, who served as project manager for Sherlock’s implementation.

The groundwork for Sherlock started three years ago when the Orbis Cascade Alliance, a consortium of 37 Northwest colleges and universities, decided to integrate their 37 separate library systems into one cohesive setup. Whitman was scheduled as one of the last members to change their system. Work began in June 2014 and went live on Jan. 8, 2015. Unlike Watson, its predecessor, Sherlock’s search system automatically has access to Summit, the system for accessing resources from other institutions in the Alliance that previously required a separate account. The change is intended to reduce hassle for members of the Whitman community.

“The biggest change, I believe, is that now we have integrated Summit within Sherlock. You no longer have to go outside to search for a Summit book and the whole process of requesting a Summit item very simple. To top it off, you no longer need a Summit account –– just your Whitman username and password,” said College Librarian Dalia Corkrum.

Along those lines, Sherlock also displays useful information about resources in the Summit system such as location and accessibility of items. This is a result of the project’s goal to share infrastructure among the Orbis Cascade Alliance libraries.

“What’s unique about the system … Summit has is that we’re sharing a lot of information with the other institutions so that now … you can actually see … which of these other institutions have [a resource] and is it checked out. In order to do that we have to share a lot of infrastructure. So that’s really the big difference is that a lot of that infrastructure is being shared across the Alliance,” said Blau.

With any large system, especially one that is trying to pinpoint resources in an expansive catalog like that of Summit, there will inevitably be changes from the previous system that Whitman students and staff will have to adjust to. The interface for users and library staff is different, as are some intricacies for how the search system functions.

“It still works primarily like Watson did in that searches tend to be very broad and then once search results are returned the user has the option of narrowing it down … and so you keep drilling down until you find the information that’s more pertinent to you,” said Corkrum. “There are some ways the drilling down process is more specific and some ways it’s more vague, so it’s going to take some time for us all to learn how to use it well,” said Corkrum.

Although there will be an adjustment for Whitman members to learn to use Sherlock to its fullest potential, initial responses from students are positive especially in regards to the new interface.

“The interface seems much simpler. I haven’t used it beyond searching for a book in the library but the layout seems much cleaner,” said junior Morrow Toomey.

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