Aug 282014

We announced back in November 2012 that we would be developing a new SUNCAT interface and have posted a number of items about the development along the way. Now, following the positive feedback on the new interface from the last survey, we would like to retire the original SUNCAT interface at the end of next month on Friday 26th September.

The original interface was went live as a pilot service in early 2005, and proved to be popular for it’s simplicity and ease of use, but we hope you agree that the new interface represents a significant improvement and modernisation of the SUNCAT service.

We would be grateful if you could move to using the new interface, if you haven’t already, as soon as possible and also if you could update any bookmarks accordingly. The address for the homepage of the new service remains as

One feature which will no longer be available is the Google search gadget ( We understand that Google will not support this in the long term so we have not updated this to work with the new interface. If, however, there is sufficient interest we would be happy to investigate providing an alternative as a future development.

Please also contact us as soon as possible via the EDINA Helpdesk at if you have any queries or concerns about this or the switch off of the original interface in general.

 August 28, 2014  Posted by at 3:23 pm Developments, News Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
Aug 112014

We’ve just published the report from the survey we conducted on the new look SUNCAT. The survey ran from the end of May to the end of June 2014.

The results of the survey were largely very positive but it did highlight a few areas where we can focus on making improvements.

The vast majority of respondents, 88%, found SUNCAT “Quite Easy” or “Very Easy” to use. Five percent reported that they found SUNCAT “Very Difficult” to use and on further investigation this was revealed to be due to a compatibility problem with older versions of Internet Explorer. However, as soon as we noticed these responses we investigated and we believe that these issues are now resolved, see the blog post: Problems using the new service on the IE8 browser

Further, 91% of respondents indicated that they found the new service better than the original one.

The most popular features on the new SUNCAT with the highest proportion of respondents reporting that they were either “Very useful” or “Quite useful” were:

  • Links to library’s local catalogues in the holdings display (91%)
  • Icons differentiating print and online holdings in the holdings display (90%)
  • Electronic only/non-electronic only format limit on the advanced search page (86%)
  • More search options on the advanced search page (86%)
  • Library information pages (linked to from library name in the holdings display) (82%)
Feature Popularity (Percentage of Respondents Reporting the Feature as Useful or Very Useful)
Links to library’s local catalogues in the holdings display 91
Icons differentiating print and online holdings in the holdings display 90
Electronic only/non-electronic only format limit on the advanced search page 86
More search options on the advanced search page 86
Library information pages (linked to from library name in the holdings display) 82
Results automatically ranked by relevance 77
Post-search filters on left-hand side of the results screen 75
More flexible and granular library and location limits on the basic search page 68
Option to choose how many results to view per page 67
Expanded table of contents (available on more titles) 63
Auto-suggestions on entering search terms 54
Map of all Contributing library locations on the basic search page 26
Newsfeed from the SUNCAT Blog on the basic search page 17


Respondents were also asked to comment on their favourite features. The most popular features were the format limiting, format filtering and format icons.

“I really like being able to tell at a glance whether a library has print or online holdings for a particular journal.”

“… is especially useful as it alerts to licensing issues etc. and therefore prevents requests that will fail and saves time in getting information to the library user.”

Second to these were the additional library information pages and the links to local catalogues:

“The improved links through to library information and the links to the local library catalogue is a big improvement.”

“The new library information pages are very helpful as I work in Interlibrary loans and this feature gives me important information very quickly without having to try and locate it on the library’s own website or in the BL’s directory of library codes.”

Followed by the clear design, ease of use and general usefulness of the new service:

“Cleaner, easier to read and navigate”

“much nicer interface – much more obvious in terms of how to use it”

We also used the survey to find out what improvements our users would like to see in SUNCAT so that we can use this information to plan and prioritise our future developments. The following table summarises the suggestions and EDINA’s responses.

Suggested Improvement EDINA Response
Ensure the new service is compatible with older browsers We have investigated this and believe that the necessary changes have now been implemented
Add more libraries We will continue to expand the coverage of the service and are currently in the process of adding new libraries
Improve deduplication We are gathering information about suggested matches on the service and will use this information to inform the development of an improved matching algorithm which should improve deduplication in the long term.
Improve holdings information Unfortunately, we have no control over this as we rely on the holdings information supplied to us by our Contributing Libraries
A bulk upload facility of ISSNs to enable scarcity checks We are in the process of developing a holdings comparison service which should assist with scarcity checking
UKRR libraries limit We are in the process of developing tailored or customised views onto SUNCAT, one of which could be for the UKRR.
Improve relevance ranking We will investigate possible improvements in this area.
Reinstate subject heading browsing This will be made available in an upcoming release
Provide better options for printing holdings dataPrinting results. It would be helpful if you could print a short summary with selected location details without the need to print irrelevant web-page data too. We will investigate possible improvements in this area.
Provide information about policies on ILL provision and licensing agreements We will investigate the possibility of pulling this information from sources such as KB+, while bearing in mind that recent changes to UK Copyright Law might make licensing information less relevant for ILL purposes.
Move the British Library code to appear beside the library name This information is displayed on the Library Information page which can be accessed by clicking on the Library name in the holdings display. We feel that adding this information directly to the holdings display could complicate and confuse the display for general users, but we will keep this request under consideration.
Split up electronic and print holdings or show more clearly We are working to improve how the format filtering works and will consider adding the format limit to the basic search page.


The results of the survey are very positive for the new SUNCAT service and indicate it now provides an overall improved platform from which to continue to develop the service further.

Unfortunately there were some initial problems with compatibility with older browsers, which the survey very usefully highlighted. Otherwise the responses to the new features are encouraging, with the vast majority of respondents finding the new service easy to use and an improvement on the original service.

Key features appear as those related to identifying, distinguishing between, limiting to or filtering out particular journal formats. This reflects a high number of users wanting to focus on non-electronic formats due to licence restrictions on providing copies from electronic formats. However, the additional information provided on the library pages and the links to local catalogues also proved popular.

We will give further consideration to each of the suggested improvements and where possible investigate developing these as part of future releases. In some cases the developments are already in the pipeline and the survey provides an additional confirmation of their potential usefulness.

SUNCAT is the Serials Union Catalogue for the UK. Visit the service at
 August 11, 2014  Posted by at 3:03 pm Developments, News Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Jul 022014

I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Interlend 2014 conference at the Carlton Highland Hotel in Edinburgh. Interlend is the annual conference for the Forum for Interlending and Information Delivery (FIL), which is an organisation for those involved in interlending and document supply, enabling them to exchange ideas and views and also to raise the profile of this area of work nationally and internationally.

This year’s conference took place on EDINA’s home turf in Edinburgh and featured an excellent range of talks focusing on marketing interlending services, developments to systems supporting interlending and case studies of evolving interlending services in practice. My highlights would have to include:

Anthony Brewerton, Head of Academic Services at the University of Warwick, who kicked off the conference with a lively and engaging tour of the key concepts to be considered when marketing and branding a library service. This included the ladder of loyalty – developing relationships with your customers, until they become advocates of, then champions of and finally partners in developing your service.

Ann Lees and Stephen Winch from NHS Education for Scotland Knowledge Services Group (NES KSG) recounted the trials of dealing with a “no copying” policy across NHS Scotland (NHSS), following the Scottish Government’s decision several years ago not to renew the then existing CLA licence. To compensate, a service was set up to provide copyright fee paid copies of material via the British Library. In order to streamline this process NES KSG utilised the British Library’s API to enable NHSS users to make requests via the Knowledge Network search platform. Users can run a search on the Knowledge Network and if no full text is available to them a link to login to the new Document Delivery service is displayed. The user is asked to fill in details about the reason for the request, preferred delivery option and then the order is placed via the British Library DDS API. NHSS librarians also receive email copies of the requests and go into the system to approve them. The system went live earlier this year and usage is gradually taking off. However, since June this year a revised CLA licence has been signed so restricted copying is now also available within NHSS.

I feared that a presentation on copyright could be rather dry but Emily Stannard, the Copyright & Compliance Officer from the University of Reading gave an engaging and informative update on the current status of key copyright developments in the UK, particularly the copyright exceptions which came into force at the start of June 2014. These include:

Supplying single copies of published works to (non-profit) libraries and to library users. No contract or individual licence can override this exception, which could have implications for those libraries looking to fulfil ILL requests via copies of articles from e-journals. Potentially libraries would not need to check individual licences before supplying copies. Emily advised us to keep our eyes peeled for more information on this topic.

Other exceptions include:

  • Preservation copying covers all works
  • No requirement for paper copyright declarations, an online declaration with checkbox or digital signature is now sufficient
  • Libraries can copy all types of work for persons doing non-commercial research/private study
  • Text and data mining for non-commercial purposes
  • Accessible copies for disabled people
  • Making works available on dedicated terminals (providing there is no contract saying you can’t)

Marjory Lobban’s (Document Delivery Supervisor at the University of Edinburgh) review of interlending at the University of Edinburgh was set against the backdrop of the changing environment the library is operating within the University, with more online courses, more distance learners, more students overall and reduced library sites.

Following a downward trend in ILL requests from the late 1990s to early 2000s with the emergence of e-journals, figures started to level out again when the University started using WorldShare in 2007 and started to increase in 2010 when the University started using Iliad leading to more exposure to overseas libraries accompanied by a move to online requesting, which streamlines the process for users and ILL staff. An increasing number of supplies to the University are coming from overseas libraries so ILL requests are now often sent straight overseas rather than to the British Library or other UK libraries. Lending to overseas is also increasing.

Future plans include looking at pay per view options where full text isn’t immediately available to the user. Purchasing items if cheaper than the interlending option and rebranding the ILL service.

I also gave a presentation focusing on the new SUNCAT service, including:

  • Background and context to the recent redevelopment
  • Highlighting the key features which can be found on the new service
  • Describing how SUNCAT can assist end users, library staff and in particular ILL staff
  • A live demo of the new service
  • An update on future plans for the service

Attending Interlend 2014 not only let me introduce the new SUNCAT interface to one of our valued user groups, but also helped to give me more information on what is happening and some key priorities in the world of interlending, all very helpful as we consider how to continue to develop the SUNCAT service.

The presentations for all the sessions will soon be available on the FIL website.

Jun 182014

The survey on the new look SUNCAT service is available until Friday 27th June. Please do take a few minutes to give us 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 18, 2014  Posted by at 9:44 am Developments, News Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
May 272014

Following on from the launch of the new look SUNCAT as the primary service in March, and before finally switching off the old service , we would like to gather your feedback via a short survey

Your input is very valuable to us as it is integral to the planning of our future developments and priorities. You can find summary reports of previous user satisfaction surveys and the resulting planned actions, many of which have already been implemented, on the EDINA website.

We would be really grateful for your time and comments and would also encourage you to circulate the survey details as widely as possible.

The survey will be available until Friday 27th June 2014.

You can also continue to email any comments to or to use the “Contact” link at the bottom of all the SUNCAT pages.

Thank you in advance!

 May 27, 2014  Posted by at 9:07 am Developments, News Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
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 »
Mar 132014

The new interface for SUNCAT became publicly available in October 2013.  Since then we have been running it in parallel with the Aleph interface (termed Original SUNCAT) to allow users to gain familiarity with the new interface and make it easy to switch between the two versions.   We feel now that users have gained familiarity with the new interface and we are ready to make it the primary means of accessing the SUNCAT database.  Accordingly, from Friday 14th March , the Landing page, which at present currently provides the main way of accessing both services will no longer be available in its present form.  Please note that it may take a day or so for the changes to take place throughout the World Wide Web.  On linking to the page ( users will be taken directly to the new interface.  All the information tabs available on the Landing page (About; For Librarians; Help & Support; News and Events) are available on the new interface.  The button on the new interface, Original SUNCAT, providing access to the Aleph interface, will remain for a limited period.

We have received much informal positive feedback on the new interface but are planning to carry out a survey of the new interface in early April.   Once we have had time to analyse the returns and act on any critical points raised, we intend to remove Original SUNCAT from public availability and provide all access to the SUNCAT database entirely through the new interface.  We anticipate moving to exclusive access via the new interface at the beginning of June 2014.

 March 13, 2014  Posted by at 2:59 pm News 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 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 »