Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Date of this Version



Library Philosophy and Practice 2012



Libraries need an efficient way to manage their diverse electronic resources. At the same time, they need a tool that provides users with easy access to those digital items. Guaranteed simple and reliable access to full text sources (depending on existing subscriptions of course) is one of the main concerns of libraries in the digital age. The tool that supplied the solution to this problem is the OpenURL link resolver. (Ponsford, Stephens & Sewell, 2011).

Today, SFX by Ex Libris is the most widely used OpenURL link resolver (Robertson &. Soderdahl, 2004). This article examines whether SFX can be used not only as a link resolver, but also as a tool for assessing user information needs. We shall review SFX's contribution to the assessment of information needs in an academic library and its benefits to the users and to the library.


Most commonly, link resolvers provide the library patron with the ability to move quickly from a citation in an abstracting and indexing database to the full text itself (Robertson &. Soderdahl, 2004). SFX and other link resolvers seamlessly offer links from one information resource to another. For example, users can jump from a citation in an abstracting and indexing "source" database to "target" resources, such as full-text articles, online catalogs, interlibrary loan or other options a library chooses to offer. The whole range of possible options is displayed in one menu, instead of having to perform multiple separate searches to locate what they are looking for. (Wakimoto, Walker & Dabbour, 2006). When integrating SFX software with Google Scholar, which is widely used by academics as one of the main gates to reliable academic sources, it enables users to search the library’s collection for e-journals, and eBooks, all through Google Scholar itself. Clicking on SFX icons in Google Scholar, the user is redirected to the SFX resolver, which displays links to the selected article that is a part of the library's subscriptions elsewhere or displays other services related to the article, such as an interlibrary loan service or other function the library chose to offer. (Xu, 2010; Stowers& Tucker, 2009).

SFX was first developed at the University of Ghent by Herbert Van de Sompel and was released as a commercial product by Ex Libris in 2001. SFX is an XML-based product that was not only built on the OpenURL framework, it was the technology for which OpenURL was originally defined and thus was the first OpenURL-based link resolver on the market. (Robertson & Soderdahl, 2004). Since 2001, for ten years now, SFX offers a wealth of features for end users and librarians at over 1800 institutions in more than 50 countries as ExLibris puts it.

SFX offers its users four major benefits. First, it allows the retrieval of full text items that are part of the library's subscriptions. Second, it enables users to find full text by its citation details without knowing in which database it is hosted. Third, if there is only a print option of the article available it will direct users to the library catalog for the holding information. In case the library doesn't have the requested item, the interlibrary loan option will be suggested by the software. Last but not least, since 2009, SFX includes a recommender system, bX. By harvesting metadata from the SFX usage log files from all of the subscribing institutions, bX provides recommendations to articles. The bX recommendation service is similar to a commercial web site recommender. When a user searches for a specific article he gets a list of articles other users found interesting. This feature is very useful for users (Ponsford, Stephens, Sewell, 2011; Xu, 2010; Imler, 2011).

SFX offers some crucial benefits for libraries, too. It not only helps to manage its electronic resources and provides smooth access to its customers, but also it allows librarians to learn a lot more about user information behavior and needs, using its unique features such as its statistical reports and more.

The University of Haifa is located in the northern part of Israel, on Mount Carmel and across the Mediterranean Sea. The university community has about 18,000 students (bacholars, graduates, and PhD students) and over 1,200 faculty members. The Younes & Soraya Nazarian library is a central library which serves the entire university community. Its collection comprises more than 2 million books and electronic resources, among them 45,000 electronic journals. In January 2005, the library integrated the SFX software into its systems. The library experience with SFX and report analysis from the SFX log files will be used to demonstrate the potential advantage of SFX in the area of assessing information needs.

How SFX Reveals and Satisfies the Academic User's Information Needs

The focus of this article is the contribution of SFX as a tool assisting the library to evaluate user information needs and satisfy some of them. This article will assess information needs by some of the parameters as first suggested by David Nicholas in 2000 and updated to the digital consumer by Nicholas & Herman in 2009 (Nicholas, 2000 ; Nicholas & Herman, 2009). SFX usage & statistical reports, produced at the Younes & Soraya Nazarian library of the University of Haifa, will be the source to the data presented according to these parameters.