May 122014

The redevelopment of SUNCAT is continuing, with the following new features and functionality having just been added to the service.

Filtering of CONSER records

It is now possible to filter by CONSER records. This can be done in both basic and advanced search by clicking on CONSER in the Library drop-down list.

Greater responsivity when resizing the screen

SUNCAT now has a more responsive layout which is better able to support viewing on tablets and phones.

How the responsive SUNCAT site might look on an iPhone.

Re-introduction of format filtering

It is now possible to filter according to non-electronic, electronic or indeed all formats.

Advanced search boosting

In an earlier post we explained how search terms are boosted in SUNCAT. This was previously only available in basic search, but now the boosting of the MARC 245 tag has now been added to the advanced search.

Addition of volume, issue and date information in the TOC feature

It is now possible to view the volume, issue and date information where available.

Table of Contents for the journal ‘Socio-Economic Review’ now including volume, issue and date information.

Why not try these new, improved features out and let us know what you think? Please send any questions and/or comments to:

 May 12, 2014  Posted by at 3:11 pm Developments Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 092014

The new SUNCAT interface is available at – this became the main SUNCAT interface in March 2014 but the old interface is still available. This new interface is built on a different platform and will therefore exhibit some differences in behaviour. We have discussed some of these in previous technical blog posts, and updated help and support documentation will also clarify the changes. In this post we will give some attention to how search results are ranked according to their relevance to the search terms.


One of the features of the Solr search server which we use to query the data, is that when we perform a search, the results that we get back include a relevancy score, or rank.

“Relevancy is the quality of results returned from a query, encompassing both what documents are found, and their relative ranking (the order that they are returned to the user).”

The scores are normalised to fall on a scale between 0 and 1, but you don’t need to worry about the scores as we don’t show them to you – we just use them to inform the resulting ordering that we show you. You can read more about relevancy scoring at

By default the returned results are listed in order of relevance, with the most relevant first. This is what is reflected in the position column. Note that while the other sortable columns can be ordered in ascending or descending order, we do not allow the position column to be ordered in ascending order (i.e. from least relevant to most relevant). If you click on the position column header, the results will be ordered in descending order of relevancy.

Results table header

Clicking on the position column orders results by relevance. They may only be ordered in descending order.

We have defined relevancy so that things like punctuation and capitalisation don’t affect a result’s score.


Boosting allows us to modify scores; so we give matches on a particular search index (field) more weight than others.

We can boost the importance to the search of a particular search field, or of particular documents when we put them into Solr, or of a particular clause within a query used to search the data. SUNCAT currently performs a variety of boosting:

  • Boost a result (significantly) if the search term matches exactly.
  • Boost a result where the search terms occur close together (within 3 words of each other).
  • When searches are made on the Title Keywords field, results are boosted if the search terms occur in the 245 MARC field (Title Statement), particularly any of the sub-fields $a (Title), $b (Remainder of title), $n (Number of part/section of a work) or $p (Name of part/section of a work).

So for example, searching for “Journal hellenic studies” in the Title Keywords field would produce results including Journal of Hellenic Studies as expected, and also Archaeological reports (which has “Journal of Hellenic Studies” in the Added Title field). However the former would appear higher up in the results because the search terms occur in the main title in the 245 field.


Here are some sample searches for British trees; first, a search for records with any of the words “British” and “trees”.

Results for "British trees" (any)

Search results for any of the words “British trees”. There are over 36,000.

There are more than 36,000 results. From around the 300th result and towards the end you will see many results which have been returned because they contain the word “British”, and less related to trees. This is possibly not what you were interested in, but much like using a search engine, you can ignore the results at the end, because the most relevant ones are shown to you first. You aren’t forced to make a more accurate search, though you can if necessary.

If we search for records with all (both!) of the words “British” and “trees”, we will get fewer results:

Results for "British trees" (all)

Search results for all of the words “British trees”.

There are only two results that include both words. The Basic search feature uses this interpretation by default, searching for all the specified terms.

You could search for the quoted phrase “British trees” but this produces nothing as the exact phrase does not occur anywhere:

Results for "British trees" (quoted phrase)

There are no search results for the exact phrase “British trees”.

Another aspect which affects the scoring of results is whether a search term has been stemmed. For example, when you enter the word “British”, it will be stemmed so that Solr will look for variations on it, such as “Brit” and “Britain”. Matches on the variations will have less influence over the score than precise matches to “British”.


It can be hard to unravel exactly what causes a particular record to get a higher score than another, because of the variety of factors and weightings that go into its calculation. The relevancy can be affected by the exactness of word matches, by their frequency, by how similar the words in the record are to words in the search term, how close together they are, what fields they appear in, and a variety of other factors it is possible to bring to bear on the scoring algorithm.

In deciding what aspects of the results should be considered most important, it is necessary to make trade-offs. The challenge is to make the results as intuitively sensible as possible, but it is not always possible to infer and reflect the exact intentions of the user – and sometimes particular combinations of boosting and searching on particular fields may give apparently counter-intuitive positioning to some results. Search algorithms are inherently heuristic and are an attempt to provide meaningful results to a simple query. In general, the more accurate and complete the underlying MARC records, the better the resulting scoring will be, much like trying to raise a website’s profile in a search engine.

The Advanced search feature provides more options, and more control over how search terms are interpreted, so that you can really pin down what you are searching for – but the basic search should in most cases provide a quick and effective doorway to the wealth of information in SUNCAT!

 April 9, 2014  Posted by at 10:36 am Developments Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Nov 202013

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts highlighting some of the new features now available in the redeveloped SUNCAT. In this post I will detail how you can quickly and easily find out more information about a journal you are interested in and the library which holds it. This information should enable you to either apply for an Inter-Library loan via your local library service or to plan a visit to a library to access the journal in person.

Once you have conducted a successful search on SUNCAT and have found a title or titles you are interested in, you can display further information about the title and discover detailed holdings information by clicking on the journal title in the results display. This will take you into the full record for the title.

The full record display includes bibliographic information, such as the ISSN (International Standard Serial Number), publisher details, first date of publication, subject headings and any changes of title etc. If you scroll further down the screen you will be presented with a list of the libraries holding the title. This holdings display represents the very heart of the SUNCAT service, providing an aggregated summary of where you can find a journal title in the UK.

The holding libraries are listed in alphabetical order and for most libraries the following information is displayed:

  • An icon indicating if the holdings are print or electronic
  • Summary holdings statement of the volumes and issues a library actually holds for that title
  • Location and shelfmark of the journal
  • A link to the online version if the holding is for an electronic journal
  • A link to the local library catalogue


Holdings Display for a Title


The combination of both the bibliographic information and the holdings summary allows you to ascertain that you are definitely looking at the correct journal and which libraries actually hold the volume/issue you require. The location and shelfmark information are important should you choose to visit the library. We would also recommend clicking on the link to the local library catalogue so that you can check the most up to date status of the item you are interested in before travelling to the library.

As well as providing information about journal holdings we also provide information about each of the holding libraries. Clicking on the library name will take you to the following:

  • A link to the library homepage
  • Contact details
  • Google directions to the library
  • British Library Code
  • The date the library’s data was last updated in SUNCAT

Information about the Barnes Library at Birmingham University


This information allows you to quickly and easily go into the library’s website or to contact the library to check their access and lending policies for external users. The Google directions are obviously helpful if you do indeed plan to physically visit the library. The British Library Code is provided for Inter-Library Loan staff and the date of the library’s last update to SUNCAT provides an indication of how current the holdings information is.

If you are affiliated with a UK University the link to the SCONUL Access website, which sits just above the list of holdings, will allow you to check whether you are allowed to access and borrow material from other UK University Libraries.



If you any ideas of additional useful information we could provide about holding libraries please get let us know via the EDINA Helpdesk.

Oct 292013

We are delighted to announce that updating of the database has been started after the upgrading of the Aleph software from version 18 to version 20.  The upgrading means that the service is able to take advantage of development work carried out on our behalf by Ex Libris.  Amongst other things the matching has been improved.

It took much longer than anticipated to complete the upgrading process and consequently there is a rather large backlog of files holding updating information.  Every effort will be made to bring the database up-to-date as quickly as possible and, as usual, there will be weekly blog posts listing which Contributing Libraries have been updated in the previous 7 days.

 October 29, 2013  Posted by at 2:12 pm Developments Tagged with:  No Responses »
Oct 292013

Those working on SUNCAT are very excited with the progress which has been made with the development of the new interface and we are delighted to announce that it is now available at:

Earlier posts on this blog highlighted some of the improved functionality which will be available on the new interface.

The new interface has been developed on an open-source search platform, Solr, which has provided us with the flexibility to provide new and enhanced functionality, including:


·         Improved pre-search library and geographic limits: enabling you to focus your search to see only holdings from a particular group of libraries or from a particular geographic location.

·         The ability to combine library, location, format, language and year of

publication pre-search limits to create very specific focused searches.

·         The introduction of post-search filters: enabling you to narrow your

search results by holding library, format, subject, author, date of first

publication, place of publication and language.

·         More integrated information about our Contributing Libraries: from the holdings display you can link to the library website, contact details, Google directions, the British Library code (for inter-library loans) and the date when the library’s data was last updated in SUNCAT.

·         Links to the local catalogues of holding libraries: also available on the

holdings display, enabling you to check information directly at the source.

·         A new look for the interface incorporating a map showing all the various locations of our Contributing Libraries.

To allow everyone time to become familiar with the new interface it will run in parallel with the existing Aleph interface for a period of about 6 months.  We hope that everyone will find it easy and straightforward to use the new interface.  Help text has been provided and we will be making available some ‘Quick Start’ guides and other documentation.  In addition, it is planned to run a series of Workshops in March/April 2014 to demonstrate the functionality available in the new interface and to share with all participants the plans for further developments.

In due course we will be asking for feedback on the new interface but in the meantime we will be delighted to receive any questions and/or comments.

Please send these to:

 October 29, 2013  Posted by at 9:16 am Developments Tagged with:  No Responses »
Oct 142013

We carried out a user satisfaction survey on the service between November 2012 and January 2013. A report of the results was published earlier this year, see our post from February 2013. Overall, the response was very positive with the vast majority of respondents finding SUNCAT not only easy or very easy to use (86%) but that it also saved them time (89%). Further, 97% indicated they would recommend the service to others. However, we did also ask for comments and suggestions on how SUNCAT could be improved. This information is particularly useful for us as we work on redeveloping the SUNCAT interface. We have now analysed and summarised these suggestions into in a Quality Improvement Report with tables detailing our responses and actions. They have been graded using the following formula:

  1. Done or due for release soon
  2. Do soon, requires little resource
  3. Already planned
  4. Put on to-do list, needs more effort
  5. Not achievable or beyond scope

We are pleased to report that a large number of suggestions have been graded with “1. Done or due for release soon”, as they have been incorporated into the first release of our redeveloped service – please watch out for imminent news on this!

Please contact us at if you have any other suggestions for further improvements or comments on this report.

 October 14, 2013  Posted by at 2:57 pm Developments, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
Aug 072013

This is the third in a series of blog posts highlighting some of the new or improved features which will be available in the redeveloped SUNCAT. In this post we are going to focus on the latest version of the exact title index.

Basic and advanced search along with browsing will provide users with an exact title index.  The index will be available from a pull down menu on each of the pages.

Searching by Exact Title

We have spent a lot of time and effort to decide exactly how ‘exact’ the index should be. Our first consideration was whether we should actually include a separate index or if the title keywords index would prove sufficient. However, we believe that an exact title search is very useful for “known” item searches, so that when users know precisely which title they are interested in, they can quickly and efficiently focus in on finding where that particular title is held in the UK.

After several false starts, the first of which some of you may have seen when the service was previewed in April/May, we have defined the following rules for the exact title search (for now at least!):

1) It is case insensitive e.g. searches on NEW YORK TIMES, new york times and NeW YoRk TiMeS will all return the same matches.
2) Special characters are ignored, we are currently defining special characters as !”#$%&'()*+,-./:;<=>?@[\]^_`{|}~ after further testing and feedback these may be tweaked.
3) Diacritics are ignored e.g. search terms containing an e will find ê and so on.
4) If a title has a skip in filing defined it matches with and without the skip in filing value e.g. a serial that has a MARC 21 245a tag of

245 04$aThe journal of Hellenic studies /$cthe Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies.

will get a match for either The journal of Hellenic studies or journal of Hellenic studies.

5) No partial matching, e.g. a search on New York Times will only match serials titled New York Times not New York Times Supplement.
6) It will only find matches if all the words in a search entry are in the correct order e.g. a search on New York Times will match New York Times but not York New Times.
7) Trailing whitespace at the beginning and end of an index value will be ignored.

The actual MARC 21 tags/subfields we build the exact title index from in the redeveloped SUNCAT are as follows:

1) 245 abnp (Title Statement)
2) 246 abnp (Varying Form of Title)
3) 210 a (Abbreviated Title)
4) 222 a (Key Title)

This is a significant decrease from the number of tags/subfields that the existing SUNCAT service uses for this index so we hope that this should result in directing users quickly and easily to information about specific titles of interest without the distraction of also seeing similar or related titles.

The default title keywords search will remain as a much more inclusive index, enabling users to search across MARC fields concerned with not only the main title entry but also uniform titles, related titles, continuing titles, series titles etc. – in total indexing around 30 MARC tags. As the default search this will continue to allow users to find information when they are less sure of or less specific about the titles they want to retrieve.

 August 7, 2013  Posted by at 2:15 pm Developments Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
Jun 072013

We made a preview version of the new service available at UKSG in early April and just closed this off a few weeks ago. During this period we put up an online survey and encouraged emails to the EDINA helpdesk to ask our users for their views on the functionality and ease of use of the redeveloped service. A full report is now available on our website.

Overall, the response was very positive and any significant issues which were raised, EDINA were already aware of and are currently busy trying to resolve for the next release, due this autumn. Over 70% of the respondents reported that the preview service was better than the current service and we hope to improve this figure further as we iron out the glitches.

“Very bold design, clear and simple. A great improvement. Will encourage use of the service.”


We are happy that the vast majority of respondents found that the basic search facility was easy to use, 89%, and that the newly introduced post-search filters were found to be useful to 83% of respondents. Respondents reported that both the pre and post search filters would be good tools for reducing large result sets and filtering out holdings which might not be of interest, e.g. electronic or print holdings.

“Having the basic phrases in the first drop down box allows an easy search but also one that can still be refined without having to go to advanced search. Limiting locations and institutions is useful, especially for us as a public library as we know a number of locations will not lend so we can limit to those that do.”

Some respondents reported issues related to the display of the results list and the advanced search and work is on-going to resolve these. We were already aware that the Exact Title search was a little too exact – requiring exact matching on punctuation and letter case! Further, the relevancy ranking was not always working as expected, so these are another two areas we are currently concentrating on getting optimised.

The feedback received has been extremely useful in confirming areas we had concerns about and so helping us to prioritise immediate fixes for the next release, while also highlighting other interesting suggestions we can investigate for future releases.

 June 7, 2013  Posted by at 9:41 am Developments Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Jun 062013

The survey on the preview of the redeveloped SUNCAT service and the preview itself is available until Monday 13th May. Please do take a few minutes to have a look at the service and let us have your feedback. All comments are very welcome and will provide us with vital information on any areas which require further development. Thank you to all who have responded so far.

 June 6, 2013  Posted by at 3:00 pm Developments Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Jun 062013

This is the second in a series of blog posts highlighting some of the new features which will be available in the redeveloped SUNCAT. In this post we are going to focus on how the post search filters will improve the new service, enabling the use of faceted browsing to lead users to the most relevant journal titles and holdings for their needs.

Post search filters will be available from the search results display, down the left hand side of the results list, and will provide similar functionality as you will be familiar with via other discovery services and many commercial shopping and travel websites.

At this point we plan to include the following facets:

  • Institution (the institutions holding the journals returned in the current results list)
  • Format (includes electronic and print formats)
  • Subject
  • Author (organisation associated with journals where relevant)
  • Publisher
  • Year (first published)
  • Place of publication
  • Language
Each filter will also display the number of records in the results set associated with it. The five most common filters from each result set will display for most of the facets, with the option to view decreasingly common filters also available. However, in the case of the institutions facet, filters will be displayed alphabetically to allow you to skim down the list for particular institutions, and in the year facet, filters will be displayed in reverse chronological order.

You will be able to combine filters to drill right down to journal titles matching quite specific criteria, but you will then also be able to simply remove filters to widen your results back up again.

An interesting side effect of displaying the filters is that it is now possible to easily see the variation present in the records supplied to SUNCAT, which goes a long way to explaining why not all the records which we would like to match together do! Part of the next step of the development work will be to try and amalgamate some of the filters so that they display in a more manageable and helpful fashion. For example combining year filters containing no numerical characters, such as “||||”, “uuuu” etc. into one “Unknown” filter. Also publication place filters such as “london”, “London.”, “London,” etc. into one filter for “London”.

You can see the faceted browsing in action on the preview service which will be available until Monday 13th May, so please take a look and let us have your comments via the online survey or by email to

The following screenshot shows the filters on the preview service:

 June 6, 2013  Posted by at 2:56 pm Developments Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »