Answered By: Bryan Kasik
Last Updated: Oct 27, 2020     Views: 639

We have been very active in customizing the public interface of our online catalog (VIRGO) using Blacklight and other tools.  You can tell some of our challenges and opportunities in the Blacklight section.  Creating the interface ourselves is labor intensive, but hopefully produces a good user experience.  We also do a lot of “user experience” testing and get input to improve the online interface.

UVA Library’s “automation” development includes many different systems and tools.  Here are some of the basics – mostly focused around our online Catalog (VIRGO –  and ILL (Illiad).

VIRGO (& relationship to Sirsi)

UVA has a SIRSI online catalog system with a public search & display interface (VIRGO)  based on the Blacklight search engine and software.  Mostly the public interface that you see is a "home grown" system.  We're constantly tweaking and improving it.  We also still make "VIRGO Classic" available which is basically the native ILink SIRSI interface.  We use the EBSCO discovery service.

VIRGO (the Blacklight) interface searches more (via the Solr index – see below) than just our books in the SIRSI catalog.  It searches the EBSCO articles service, HathiTrust online books, our digital materials collections, several other commercial databases.  They are presented as if they were all in one giant online catalog, but they are actually coming from various places.

Virgo is a locally developed Ruby-on-Rails application which makes use of Blacklight for catalog search and uses the EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) API for article search.  We don’t use EBSCOhost or any other hosted solution – article search is performed by sending HTTP requests to EDS based on user input selections, then generating results pages based on the XML data received from EDS.

SIRSI is the Library’s second online integrated library system (ILS).  We first used NOTIS which we went to in 1989.  Prior to that we had a “home grown” circulation system.  We migrated to SIRSI in about 1996.

More about Blacklight

Blacklight originated at UVa but has very much become a community project since its inception nearly a decade ago, particularly because it is included in the Hydra framework for creating repository interfaces.  Both communities are very active in the open source software world.

Blacklight is a Ruby-on-Rails “engine” which builds on the basic Ruby-on-Rails web server framework to provide an interface to Solr indexing, as well as baseline display templates (which various institutions customize according to their needs).

For catalog information, we have nightly dumps of MARC records from our Sirsi instance which are transformed into Solr records for fast indexing; we also have automated workflows from other sources including our repositories, HathiTrust, etc.  For availability information, we augment the display with real-time queries to Sirsi (currently by direct access to its database tables but in the future through the Sirsi “Web Services SDK” web API).  The nightly record dumps are why a change made in Workflows does not appear in “new” Virgo until the following day, but immediately appears in VirgoClassic (iLink).

Article search through EDS is actually a separate issue and Blacklight, per se, doesn’t address that because those searches do not go through the Solr index.  We use the EBSCO EDS web API to formulate search queries, receive the results, and populate a separate set of display templates for those.

The “bento box” style of displaying multiple search results was not directly supported by Blacklight, although there may be more support for it currently.  The version of Blacklight that Virgo uses is actually quite old and we plan to upgrade to the latest in the near future (although that will entail a complete rewrite because the versions of the underlying Ruby and Rails code that we use is no longer supported), which makes it a poor exemplar for the time being.  We’ve found that Columbia’s CLIO system to be a good example, although they use Summon instead of EBSCO.

The upshot is that if you have programmers on staff and they know Ruby-on-Rails, then Blacklight will give you a major head start on creating a search-and-discovery interface.  If your programming staff currently has no expertise with Ruby-on-Rails, they can expect to create a reasonable demo site fairly quickly, but should expect to spend quite a while learning the nuances that will be needed to make it a rock-solid production site.


For interlibrary loan we use a hosted service called Illiad from a vendor named Atlas Systems.  You can learn more about them from their website -   Like VIRGO we have customized the interface for our users.

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