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Interview: Amira Aaron

In October 2002, Amira Aaron joined the Harvard University Library (HUL) Office for Information Systems (OIS) as manager of projects and analysis. She earned a BA in French literature at Boston University and attended library school at UCLA, where she earned a master's degree. During her tenure as a librarian at UCLA, Aaron served as head of serials cataloging and associate head of technical services. She was also heavily involved in the development and implementation of UCLA's ORION system in the late 1970s, one of the first integrated library systems. After UCLA, Aaron went to work as manager of automated serials services for Faxon, and subsequently served the MIT Libraries as associate director for systems and planning. Prior to coming to Harvard, Aaron was vice-president of library services for Faxon. She was interviewed for Library Notes on December 10.

LN
As manager of projects and analysis in OIS, what is your portfolio?

AA
I'm one of the four senior managers who report to Tracey Robinson as head of the department. In my area are the staff of the digital acquisitions program and the projects staff for LDI, including a metadata analyst who works on a number of different projects. In addition, there are systems librarians who work on new development and upgrades, as well as ongoing systems such as the OPAC and portal. As a central point, we also field comments from those systems. Essentially, this section concentrates on digital resources and systems that affect the way that patrons use the library.

LN
What's your day-to-day objective?

AA
To provide the libraries with tools that will improve patron access and discovery of the resources that we have here at Harvard. Although I've mainly worked in technical services and systems, I've always tried to keep in mind what we're ultimately trying to achieve for the library patrons and researchers.

LN
What's your most significant project so far?

AA
The SFX implementation. SFX is a technology from Ex Libris that links the user directly to the full text of our licensed resources or to holdings in the HOLLIS catalog. In the past, the user would go to an index or a database, find a citation for an article—and then back out of one system and into another to find the journal itself. Now, in many cases a user can find a citation and link dynamically to the full text. And by offering a link to HOLLIS, we are further integrating access to both print and digital resources, which is one of our goals. We've gotten wonderful feedback from both users and staff about SFX.

LN
Has SFX lived up to your expectations?

AA
Absolutely. It has really streamlined research. And use is growing: sometimes we have over 4,000 clicks of the SFX button during a single day. Conservatively speaking, in the first year—by January 2004—we'll probably have had well over 350,000 uses of SFX. We are continuing to work on enhancing our SFX implementation, adding new source databases and looking at additional information links that we may want to offer. There are times, especially in the case of particular databases or certain types of information, when SFX does not work as well as in other cases, and we need to look at this.

Two additional products that came along with SFX have also proven very popular. One that we call EJ2 is a supplementary list of journals that is generated from our SFX database and includes all of the journals in the aggregated databases that we buy. These are not presently in the HOLLIS catalog, and they're not in the portal, so they were previously very difficult to find. But now, there's access to this supplementary list of over 11,000 journals. Having a separate list is still not ideal, so we're working now to integrate these with our other bibliographic tools.

The other product used by both staff and patrons is called SFX Citation Linker. Now, when users come with citations in hand for a particular article or for particular journals, they can enter the information right into a web form and be directed directly to the full text or catalog—provided, of course, that we have it.

LN
What are some of your other major projects?

AA
I've really enjoyed working with the Portal Interface Committee and others who are concerned with the present Harvard Libraries web site [located at http://lib.harvard.edu]. We've been working to make that interface more intuitive for users. Our goal is to make the richness of the resources located in all of the 90 libraries across Harvard more evident from the site. For example, we're about to add a category on the portal for "conducting research," through which we'll lead users to library research guides, a subject guide to Harvard libraries, instructions on using the catalog, suggestions for finding current contents, and information on evaluating and citing sources.

I've also been working with Ivy Anderson and others on planning for an upgrade to our electronic resource management system. We purchase well over 5,000 electronic resources, and this requires a tremendous amount of coordination and record keeping. We need to have a system that will help us handle this increased amount of work and also make license and administrative information accessible to staff across the libraries.

Our section also has responsibility for the OPAC. Last year we opened HOLLIS up to Z39.50 access from the Harvard community, so that our patrons could use reference packages like Endnote to search and retrieve items from the system. This is going very smoothly.

Another area that I've been dealing with lately is the ability to handle the processing of individual e-books and e-book collections in our present systems.

LN
What's your role in the Library Digital Initiative?

AA
OIS staff have spent the past five years developing a very robust technical infrastructure for LDI. At the time I came to Harvard, the focus was changing from infrastructure development to the use of the LDI resources by patrons and researchers. This is my real interest—and involvement—in the project. We've been working on documentation, outreach, and publicity. We're developing materials to support the libraries and the work they do with their own faculty and students.

We've also started working with our colleagues in instructional technology. LDI now has a mandate to integrate its digital library resources with the courseware development here at Harvard. We've begun to work with the instructional technology group in FAS, as well as the iCommons staff. As a first step, a search box for the HOLLIS catalog will be incorporated as a tool on the iCommons site. But we'll go far beyond that to a point where we are really using the library's electronic resources and tools to enhance instruction and the courseware site.

LN
You're the project manager for the MetaLib implementation. What do we need to know about MetaLib? What's coming?

AA
MetaLib is a portal product from Ex Libris, the developer of the Aleph integrated library system. MetaLib adds features to the research portal that we felt were increasingly important. For example, the ability to do federated searching, or meta-searching, across a variety of resources—both internal and external to Harvard. MetaLib can allow the user to search external databases in their subject area as well as HOLLIS and the other Harvard catalogs. MetaLib also allows the user to personalize their research environment by selecting their own persistent list of resources, saving citations online, and receiving alerts for new material in their fields.

LN
We've already made cross-catalog searches possible.

AA
Yes. The cross-catalog search function was accomplished using a very early version of MetaLib. The push for MetaLib came from the cross-catalog search users who said, "It's very nice, but we want more. We want to be able to search external databases along with the Harvard catalogs."

LN
Last summer's presentations on MetaLib showed a very powerful—and very complex—research tool. Will there be shortcuts for MetaLib users?

AA
MetaLib is coming out with a new version this spring. One of its goals is to simplify the user interface and to make it easier to find resources, as you do right now on the Harvard Libraries site.

LN
Is the MetaLib portal meant to manage all of the "pots and pans information" that we have on the current portal? Like library hours, locations?

AA
I don't think we've made that decision. Certainly that kind of information is very important and must be incorporated into our new portal environment.

LN
What's the MetaLib planning and implementation process looking like?

AA
This is a very important development in the library. We are involving a lot of people across campus, and we have a MetaLib working group that I am co-chairing with Elaine Fadden from Countway. There are sub-teams that have been formed to look at various aspects of MetaLib, such as content, metadata, and the user interface, but we're taking this opportunity also to look at a number of areas and to see if what we're doing is still on track or needs to be updated. For example, we're reexamining access to electronic resources from the portal and the OPAC and trying to "rationalize" our total interface to allow users to find information in a more intuitive and seamless way.

LN
Will MetaLib be a reality in 2004?

AA
That's our expectation, but we do need to wait for the new version of MetaLib before we can actually begin our implementation. We haven't yet determined exactly what the transition to MetaLib will look like, but we will want to have adequate time to gather feedback from staff and users alike.

LN
Thank you. You'll have to keep us informed.

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Last modified on Friday, January 16, 2004.