Voilà - Canada's new union catalogue is anti-discovery

Posted on Fri 02 February 2018 in Libraries

I learned that Canada's new union catalogue, Voilà, launched on February 1, 2018 at an OLA Superconference session titled The Game Changer: Replacement of LAC’s National Union Catalogue. Monica Fuijkschot told the story that lead to the replacement of the aging, in-house AMICUS with a custom interface that has been built on top of the OCLC Worldcat platform instead. I was interested to see how it satisfies the discovery needs of the nation. To be frank, it's rather disappointing.

Voilà is not open for use

The robots.txt file for a website controls what programs such as search engine crawlers that index websites are allowed to access. By default, any program is allowed to access any page on a site. However, Voilà currently publishes a robots.txt file that blocks every program from accessing every page on the website:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

When I asked whether this was a deliberate decision to prevent Canada's bibliographic holdings from being discoverable in Google, Bing, and other search engines, Daniel Boivin from OCLC Canada was in the audience; he replied that LAC would be required to purchase an additional subscription to make the holdings visible to the entire web.

Voilà is linkless data

The detailed records expose no linked data, neither in the HTML as RDFa, microdata, or JSON-LD, nor via content negotiation. This was an opportunity to strengthen our national collections by surfacing links to Canadian subject and name authorities, to broaden discovery and reinforce our national identities.

Voilà doesn't use authorities?

It may be that Voilà doesn't serve up any authority data because it doesn't seem to use authorities; for example, if I initiate a new search by selecting an author from the record details, the new search is based entirely on a string match. Searching for "Scott, Dan" this way turns up all of the works authored by every different Dan Scott, instead of works authored by the same Dan Scott. This surprises me in the context of a national union catalogue; I would have thought that identities would be even more important to making sense of our nation.

OCLC membership requirements

A major outcome of the outsourcing of the union catalogue to OCLC is that all libraries that want to contribute their records to, perform copy-cataloguing through, or request inter-library loans via Canada's national union catalogue are now required to be OCLC members. For a seven week period, LAC did open up applications for small public and academic libraries to request subsidization of a new OCLC membership; they found that they did not have many applicants.

Domain name is worldcat.org

The hostname is canada.on.worldcat.org. I'm surprised that a national union catalogue would not be served up on the gc.ca or canada.ca domains. Instead, the hostname reads like an advertisement for WorldCat.

No social media metadata

One of the critiques of AMICUS that Monica shared during her presentation was that it didn't support the new world of social media. However, Voilà records currently do not include any of the common structured data formats that support rich social media sharing--schema.org, OpenGraph Protocol, or Twitter Card metadata. This could be addressed in an update to the catalogue, but, given the robots.txt file, any conforming agent that Twitter, Facebook, or other social media networks would use to generate a rich display if that metadata was embedded in the detailed records wouldn't be allowed to access the record to parse the data anyway.