Blacklight: Faceted searching at UVA

Screen capture of BlacklightBlacklight is a neat project that Bethany Nowviskie pointed me to at the University of Virginia. They have indexed some 3.7 million records from their library online catalogue and set up a faceted search and browse tool.

What is faceted searching and browsing? Traditionally search environments like those for finding items in a library have you fill in fields. In Blacklight you can both search with words, but you can also add constraints by clicking on categories within the metadata. So, if I search for “gone with the wind” in Blacklight it shows that there are 158 results. On right it shows how those results are distributed over different categories. It shows me that 41 of these are “BOOK” in the category “format”. If I click on “BOOK” it then adds a constraint and updates the categories I can use further. Backlight makes good use of inline graphics (pie charts) so you can see at a glance what percentage of the remaining results are in what category type.

This faceted browsing is a nice example of a rich-prospect view on data where you can see and navigate by a “prospect” of the whole.

Blacklight came out of work on Collex. It is built on Flare which harnesses Solr through Ruby on Rails. As I understand it, Blacklight is also interesting as an open-source experimental alternative to very expensive faceted browsing tools that comes out of the Collex project. It is a “love letter to the Library” from a humanities computing project and its programmer.