Same Name, Fresh Face: U.Va. Library Launches New Interface to Online Catalog

July 14, 2010 — The University of Virginia Library is replacing the interface to its online catalog at 8 a.m. on Thursday. Though it will still be called "Virgo," it will have a completely new design and enhanced search capabilities.

The new interface is designed to make searching the library's collections easier and more intuitive. It will allow users to search and browse across different formats, save and share searches, get alerts about new items in their areas of interest, and explore library-produced digital collections. It will also integrate digital collections with traditional or "physical" items, so search results will include digital images as well as books, DVDs and other formats.

"We're thrilled to be able to introduce this improved way of searching the catalog," said Erin Mayhood, who chaired the library's User Experience Team. "Students and faculty made it clear what they needed and this is the start of what we hope will be a continually enhanced search experience."

The library's current online catalog has been in use since 1997. While its interface has been tweaked over the years, this is the first full-scale replacement. The new interface was developed by the library and has been released as an open-source project under a Creative Commons license.

Originally called "Blacklight," the new interface is the result of several years of development, usability studies and input from students and faculty. Blacklight is one of a set of collaborative projects the library and the University's Information Technology and Communications division are undertaking with staff from Stanford University and Great Britain's University of Hull as part of a broad collaborative project called "Hydra." 

The Hydra project's goal is to create a comprehensive set of Web services that will let librarians and scholars manage describe, deliver, reuse and preserve digital information.

The new online catalog interface is UVa.'s first milestone for Hydra, and is already in use at other institutions including Stanford, Hull, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Wisconsin, as well as Boston’s public radio station, WGBH. Other institutions have now begun to use Blacklight and are contributing to its ongoing development.

"This is UVa.'s first production release for the Hydra project," said Martha Sites, associate university librarian for production and technology services. "We are excited to see our partners and others make interesting uses of Blacklight and contribute to its ongoing development. We anticipate a shared benefit from collaborating with a growing number of institutions."

While the new interface will go live Thursday, it will be under continued development to include more features in the future. Some current actions will require the old interface, such as recalling a book or checking items on reserve. For those functions, users will automatically be directed to the old interface, now called "Virgo Classic."