New Copac interface

It’s finally here!  After months of very hard work from the Copac team, and lots of really useful input from users on the Beta trials, the new Copac interface is now live.

We have streamlined the Copac interface, and you can still search and export records without logging in to Copac. This is ideal if you want to do a quick search, and don’t need any of the additional functionality.  Users who choose not to login will still be able to use the new functionality of exporting records directly to EndNote and Zotero, and will see book and journal tables-of-contents, where available.

You now also have the option to login to Copac.  This is not compulsory, and you only need to login if you want to take advantage of the full range of new personalisation features.   These have been developed to help you to get the most out of Copac, and to assist in your workflows.

‘Search History’ records all of your searches, and includes a date/time stamp.  This allows you to keep track of your searches, and to easily re-run any search with a single click.

‘My References’ allows you to manage your marked records, and create an annotated online bibliography.

You can annotate and tag all of your searches and references.  There is no limit to how you can use this functionality:  see my post from March for some suggestions about how you might use tags and annotations.  We would love to hear how you are using them – please get in touch if you would like to share your experiences and ideas.

Users from some institutions will now have the option to see their local catalogue results appearing alongside the Copac results.  We are harvesting information from the institutions’ Z39.50 servers, and using this to create a merged results set.  If you are interested in your institution being a part of this, please get in touch.

Some people have expressed concern that the need to login means that Copac is going to be restricted to members of UK academic institutions only.  This is not the case.  We are committed to keeping Copac freely-accessible to all.  Login is required for the new features to function:  we need to be able to uniquely identify you in order to record your search history and references; and we need to know which (if any) institution you are from to show you local results.  We have tried to make logging in as easy as possible.  For members of UK academic institutions, this means that you can use your institution’s central username/password, or your ATHENS details  For our users who aren’t members of a UK academic institution, you can create a login from an identity provider: ProtectNetwork and TypePad.  These providers enable you to create a secure identity, which you can use to manage access to many internet sites.

We are very grateful to everyone who has taken the time to give us feedback on the recent Beta trials.  But we can never get enough feedback!  We’d love to hear what you think about the new Copac interface:  you can email us; speak to us on twitter; or leave comments here.

New features of the Copac Beta Interface

With the new Copac interface, we wanted to make the Search History and Marked List (now re-named My References) more useful. Previously, these features were session based — that is, if you re-started your web browser, your search history and saved records were lost. For us to be able to retain that data over multiple sessions, we need to know who our users are. Hence, for Copac Beta we are forcing you to login.

The advantage of logging in is that you can use Copac Beta from multiple machines at different times and still have access to the searches and references you saved yesterday or last week – or even last year.  Unfortunately, log-in is currently restricted to members of UK Access Federation institutions (most UK HE and FE institutions, and some companies), but don’t worry – there will always be a free version of Copac open to everyone, and we will be widening the log-in scope in the future.

You can tag your searches and references and use a tag cloud to see those items tagged with a particular tag. We are automatically tagging your saved searches and references with your search terms, and you can remove these automatic tags, and add your own.  These tags are then added to your tag cloud, so that you can easily navigate your saved records through tags which are meaningful to you.  Why would you want to delete the automatically generated tags?  Well, records are tagged with all of your search terms so, if you limit your search to ‘journals and other periodicals’, the tags for records from that set will include ‘journals’ ‘other’ and ‘periodicals’.  If you find these confusing, you can just delete them, and have only tags that have meaning for you.

You can also add notes to any of your references – perhaps to remind yourself that you have ordered the item through inter-library loan, and when you should go and pick it up, or perhaps to make comments about how useful you found the item.  This ‘My References’ section was developed as part of the JISC-funded project Discovery to Delivery at Edina and Mimas (D2D@E&M) as a Reusable Marked List workpackage.

You can also edit the bibliographic details of the item.  These edited details are only visible to you, so you don’t have to worry about making any changes.  You could use this to correct a typo or misspelling in the record, or add details that are not visible in the short record display, such as information about illustrations or pagination.

The search history feature allows you to re-run any previous search with a single click, from any screen.  This could be especially useful for anyone who is doing demos, as not only do you know that the search will return results, but it saves you from the jelly fingers that haunt the even the most proficient of typists when in front of an audience.  The date and time of previous searches are recorded, so that you can see what you have searched for and when.  This could be useful for tracking the progress of a project over time, or showing at a glance what effect refining a search has on the number of results.

Many journal records now contain the latest table-of-contents.  Clicking on an article title will take you through to the Zetoc record for that article, and from there you can use the Open-URL resolver to link directly to full-text (if your institution has access), or order the article through your institution or directly from the British Library.  The table-of-contents allows you to get an idea of the scope of the journal, and whether it will be of interest to you, without going to another website. This makes it easier to avoid wasted travel or unnecessary inter-library loan requests.

We’d love to know what you think of these new features – and any suggestions you might have for new ones!  Once you’ve used the new features, please fill-in our questionnaire, to help us learn what we’re doing right, and what you’d like to see changed.  As thanks for your feedback, there’s a £35 Amazon voucher up for grabs for one lucky respondent.  The survey has 9 questions, and shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes of your time.  Of course, you can always give us additional feedback through the comments on this blog, by emailing, by phone or post, or Twitter.  But we’d really like you to do the survey as well 🙂

Search history & a stateless interface

One of the things I’d like to do for Copac is to re-write the code behind the web based user interface. The current architecture was designed to work with a Z39.50 server and I now consider it to be too complex. This makes it hard to debug when things go wrong and the complexity of it means that things do go wrong.

So, I’d like to move the interface over to a REST based stateless interface that talks dircectly to the database without going through our Z39.50 interface. This should decrease the time to produce a response after a user hits the search button and should be more reliable.

What I wasn’t too sure about, until now, was how we would incorporate Copac’s Search History feature into a stateless, REST based, interface. The answer came to me during the small hours this morning. We can put the searches into the same Atom Publishing Protocol (APP) repository that we plan to use for the Marked List. (The Search History and Marked List would be separate collections within the repository and so wouldn’t be mixed up together.)

The advantages of this are: the user can have an Atom feed of their searches, they can tag and annotate their searches and generally manipulate their search history by deleting and editing entries through APP client software. We might also be able to include searches from other services. I think such a search history would work for any REST based service. So if we can move other Mimas services, such as Zetoc and the Archives Hub over to a REST based interface, then a user could potentially have, in one place, an archive of all the searches they have performed over a number of different services.