it could be worse

Have you noticed the changes Google has been making to the way they display search results? Google Instant has been the latest, but before that, there was the introduction of the “Everything” sidebar. And that one in particular seems to have upset numerous Google search fans. If you do a search in Google for “everything sidebar,” the first few results are about removing or hiding it.

Not only that, but the latest offering from the Funny Music Project is a song all about hating the Google “Everything” sidebar. The creator, Jesse Smith, expresses a frustration that many of us can identify with, “It’s hard to find a product that does what it does really well. In a world of mediocrity, it’s the exception that excels. Then some jerk has to justify his job by tinkering and jiggering and messing up the whole thing.”

Tech folks like to tinker. We like making things work better, or faster, or be more intuitive. I’ll bet that there are a lot of Google users who didn’t know about the different kinds of content-specific searches that Google offered, or had never used the advanced search tools. And they’re probably happy with the introduction of the “Everything” sidebar.

But there’s another group of folks who are evidently very unhappy with it. Some say it takes up too much room on the screen, that it adds complexity, and that they just don’t like the way it looks.

Cue ironic chuckling from me.

Let’s compare the Google search results screen with search results from a few of the major players in libraryland:


ProQuest EBSCOhost

CSA Illumina ISI Web of Knowledge

So, who’s going to write a song about how much they hate <insert library database platform of choice>?

NASIG 2010: Let the Patron Drive: Purchase on Demand of E-books

Presenters: Jonathan Nabe, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and Andrea Imre, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale

As resources have dwindled over the years, libraries want to make sure every dollar spent is going to things patrons will use. Patron-driven acquisition (PDA) means you’re only buying things that your users want.

With the Coutts MyiLibrary, they have access to over 230,000 titles from more than 100 publishers, but they’ve set up some limitations and parameters (LC class, publication year, price, readership level) to determine which titles will be made available to users for the PDA program. You can select additional title after the initial setup, so the list is constantly being revised and enhanced. And, they were able to upload their holdings to eliminate duplications.

[There are, of course, license issues that you should consider for your local use, as with any electronic resource. eBooks come with different sorts of use concerns than journals, but by now most of us are familiar with them. However, those of us in the session are blessed with a brief overview of these concerns. I recommend doing a literature study if this interests you.]

They opted for a deposit account to cover the purchases, and when a title is purchased, they add a purchase order to the bibliographic record already in the catalog. (Records for available titles in the program are added to the catalog to begin with, and titles are purchased after they have been accessed three times.)

[At this point, my attention waned even further. More interested in hearing about how it’s working for them than about the processes they use to set up and manage it, as I’m familiar with how that’s supposed to work.]

They’ve spent over $54,000 since November 2008 and purchased 470 titles (approx $115/title on average). On average, 95 pages are viewed per purchased title, which is a stat you can’t get from print. Half of the titles have been used after the initial purchase, and over 1,000 titles were accessed once or twice (prior to purchase and not enough to initiate purchase).

Social sciences and engineering/technology are the high users, with music and geography at the low end. Statistically, other librarians have pushed back against PDA more than users, and in their case, the humanities librarian decided this wasn’t a good process and withdrew those titles from the program.

During the same time period, they purchased almost 17,000 print titles, and due to outside factors that delayed purchases 77% of those titles have never circulated. Only 1% circulated more than four times. [Hard to compare the two, since ebooks may be viewed several times by one person as they refer back to it, when a print book only has the checkout stat and no way to count the number of times it is “viewed” in the same way.]

Some issues to consider:

  • DRM (digital rights management) can cause problems with using the books for classroom/course reserves. DRM also often prevents users from downloading the books to preferred portable, desktop, or other ebook readers. There are also problems with incompatible browsers or operating systems.
  • Discovery options also provide challenges. Some publishers are better than other at making their content discoverable through search tools.
  • ILL is non-existent for ebooks. We’ve solved this for ejournals, but ebooks are still a stumbling block for traditional borrowing and lending.
  • There are other ebook purchasing options, and the “big deal” may actually be more cost-effective. They provide the wide access options, but at a lower per-book cost.
  • Archival copies may not be provided, and if it is, there are issues with preservation and access that shift long-term storage from free to an undetermined cost.

CiL 2008: What Do Users Really Do in Their Native Habitat?

Speakers: Pascal Lupien and Randy Oldham

Unsubstantiated assumptions about Millennials cause libraries to make poor choices in providing services and resources. Lupien and Oldham spent some time studying how students actually use the tools we think they use. They used typical survey and focus group methodologies, which make for rather boring presentation recaps, so I won’t mention them.

Study found that only 9% of students used PDAs, and tended to be among older students. 69% of students had cell phones, but only 17% of them have ever used them to browse the Internet. 93% of student have used a chat client, and most have used them for academic purposes several times per week. 50% of users had never used online social network applications for academic group work.

The focus groups found that students preferred email over online social networks for group work. Students are more willing to share the results of their work with friends than with other classmates.

42% of students has never played online games, and men were three times more likely to do so than women. Only 4.1% were involved with online virtual worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life.

The survey respondents indicated they were more likely to go to the library’s website first rather than Google. The focus groups also confirmed this, in addition to indicating that the library had the best sources of information despite being the most difficult to manage.

Students are reluctant to mix personal and academic computing. The uptake on online social networks for academic use has been slow, but will likely increase, and we have to ask, “is this the best use of our resources and time?” Our priorities need to be more on improving the services we already offer, such as our websites and search tools. “Rather than looking at technologies & trying to find a use for them in our environment, we should determine what our students need & seek solutions to meet those needs.”

Speaker: John Law

Proquest conducted a survey of seven universities across North America and the United Kingdom, involving 60 students. As with Lupien and Oldham’s study, they conducted it anonymously. Observations were conducted in a variety of locations, from the library to dorm rooms. They used a program like web conferencing software to capture the remote sessions.

Law gave an anecdote of a fourth year student who did all the things librarians want students to do when doing research, and when he was asked why, the student gave all the right answers. Then, when he was asked how long he had been doing his research that way, he indicated something like six weeks, after a librarian had come to his class to teach them about using the library’s resources. Library instruction works.

Course instructors are also influential. “My English instructor told me to use JSTOR.”

Brand recognition is fine, but it doesn’t necessarily effect the likelihood that resources will be used more or less.

Students use abstracts to identify relevant articles, even when the full text is available. They’re comfortable navigating in several different search engines, but not as well with library websites in locating relevant resources. Users don’t always understand what the search box is searching (books, articles, etc.), and can find it to be discouraging. A-Z databases page is too unmanageable for most users, particularly when starting their research.

Students are using Google for their research, but mainly for handy look-ups and not as a primary research tool. Those who use Google as a primary research tool do so because they aren’t as concerned with quality or are insufficiently aware of library eresources or have had bad experiences with library eresources.

Librarians, students use Google and Wikipedia the same way you do. (We know you all use those tools, so don’t even try to deny it.)

Students laughed at surveyors when asked how they use online social networks for academic purposes.

CiL 2008: What’s New With Federated Search

Speakers: Frank Cervone & Jeff Wisniewski

Cervone gave a brief over-view of federated searching, with Wisniewski giving a demonstration of how it works in the real world (aka University of Pittsburgh library) using WebFeat. UofP library has a basic search front and center on their home page, and then a more advanced searching option under Find Articles. They don’t have a Database A-Z list because users either don’t know what database means in this context or can’t pick from the hundreds available.

Cervone demonstrated the trends in using meta search, which seems to go up and down, but over-all is going up. The cyclical aspect due to quarter terms was fascinating to see — more dramatic than what one might find with semester terms. Searches go up towards mid-terms and finals, then drop back down afterwards.

According to a College & Research Libraries article from November 2007, federated search results were not much different from native database searches. It also found that faculty rated results of federated searching much higher than librarians, which begs the question, “Who are we trying to satisfy — faculty/students or librarians.”

Part of why librarians are still unconvinced is because vendors are shooting themselves in the foot in the way they try to sell their products. Yes, federated search tools cannot search all possible databases, but our users are only concerned that they search the relevant databases that they need. De-duplication is virtually impossible and depends on the quality of the source data. There are other ways that vendors promote their products in ways that can be refuted, but the presenters didn’t spend much time on them.

The relationships between products and vendors is incestuous, and the options for federated searching are decreasing. There are a few open source options, though: LibraryFind, dbWiz, Masterkey, and Open Translators (provides connectors to databases, but you have to create the interface). Part of why open source options are being developed is because commercial vendors aren’t responding quickly to library needs.

LibraryFind has a two-click find workflow, making it quicker to get to the full-text. It also can index local collections, which would be handy for libraries who are going local.

dbWiz is a part of a larger ERM tool. It has an older, clunkier interface than LibraryFind. It doesn’t merge the results.

Masterkey can search 100 databases at a time, processing and returning hits at the rate of 2000 records per second, de-duped (as much as it can) and ranked by relevance. It can also do faceted browsing by library-defined elements. The interface can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be.

Federated searching as a stand-alone product is becoming passe as new products for interfacing with the OPAC are being developed, which can incorporate other library databases. vufind, WorldCat local, Encore, Primo, and Aquabrowser are just a few of the tools available. NextGen library interfaces aim to bring all library content together. However, they don’t integrate article-level information with the items in your catalog and local collections very well.

Side note: Microsoft Enterprise Search is doing a bit more than Google in integrating a wide range of information sources.

Trends: Choices from vendors is rapidly shrinking. Some progress in standards implementation. Visual search (like Grokker) is increasingly being used. Some movement to more holistic content discovery. Commercial products are becoming more affordable, making them available to institutions of all sizes of budgets.

Federated Search Blog for vendor-neutral info, if you’re interested.