Searching Summon : a pilot in the faculty of Health

There has been some interesting blog posts recently about the relationship of Boolean and other techniques to discovery tools recently (see for example Library search tools. Could we make them harder to use?) and being involved in a couple of recent pilot sessions in our faculty of Health reminded me of this debate.

One of my teaching colleagues commented ‘You wouldn’t use it [Summon] if someone’s life was at risk’ – true, but there again would you really trust a database front-end to give you what you want? What with the amount of ill-matched content, paywalls to negotiate, openURLs to fail, links aggregated from a third party, relying on eresources to try and save a life would be a risky strategy to say the least – whatever the platform.  But confidence in retrieval is just what, say, a student nurse in our Defence School of Health Care Studies might require.

The pilot sessions we conducted so far bought the expected rash of error messages: a realization that Nexis UK content doesn’t work (all of it – so we have temporarily switched it off), a problem with the Nursing times through Ovid (why did the Nursing Times not have full-text article links but others did – was it because it was weekly?), a ‘Page not found’ for a one journal. We realized for example that an ‘Author’ limiters on the left-hand side only appeared where we had loaded a related MARC record into Summon, and they did not seem to appear with to other resources. The session also gave me a chance to study the Summon interface close up, including what looked like a fairly decent attempt to break it: !

Summon search log

Looking in the Summon search logs shows a variety of terms entered, many of them keywords aimed a particular specialism :for example one entry shows the search ‘foreign accent syndrome‘.

The real  challenge that Summon brings with it is to traditional information literacy : an academic commented that it was ‘easy to use’ but would be great for undergraduates, who maybe come straight from searching Google but without any of the skills, rather than later years where searching habits need to be more refined. Summon is dynamic, but buries its structure : whereas CINAHL, for example, can be overtly complex but requires more methodical searching.

For example I compared the above two searches for this query ‘foreign accent syndrome : on CINAHL Ft on Summon

One thing that immediately stuck me was that the traditional skills of thinking’ about the ‘context’ of the keywords you use still applies, in fact they become even more important with Summon. Another was that the differences are not necessarily about Boolean logic (pace @daveyp and @carolgauld) – both sets of terms are ANDed by default. The differences seem to me to be the level of information that is fed back to the searcher , rather than the technique themselves.

One interface gives you large number of quick results but then requires you to filter, searching across all resources – the other filters first and makes you structure your search. Here I am reminded that we have set up most of our native databases to default to Advanced rather than Basic – did we consult we any students to do this? Did we offer any options? –  the Basic Search screen in CINAHL for example, is more ‘googlised’ and closer to Summon’s Basic search.

It would be helpful in my view if Summon unpacked some of its ‘magic box’ – and gave your more feedback as you search (here I think an option to get the instant numbers of searches that you get back from each term as you go along might be useful, to show the results set from each interaction). It doesn’t do itself any favours in the ‘Advanced screen either’ : do students really need a search using an ISBN or ISBN box right up there as a priority? The crucial point however is that the student is more on their own (as they would be with Google), gets results back quicker (even though they have to trim them down more – as with Google). They are using a search engine for *library stuff* that is closer to what they have may have used before they came here.

We are hoping to get more in-depth results from library colleagues in Health who have circulated some student questionnaires so it should make for some fascinating reading…


SSUGUK : conversations about content, and a community of users

Several of us attended a useful SerialsSolutions User Group day hosted by University of Surrey, the first part of which was setting out the scope of such a usergroup, raising product issues & also the developments and product enhancements planned by SerialsSolutions.


The session was hosted by Dave Pattern who took us through in the morning session the different ways in which we could share solutions and raise issues to the company including the Summon Community wiki, and the LISSERSOLUK mailing list. It was good to see a full complement of Serials Solutions representatives there who listened to points that were made from the floor about a number of issues : how do you reduce the number of newspaper articles and book reviews cluttering up Summon (the response came that can pre-set these in a widget – personally I think there should be an admin setting that should last for the whole of your Summon session not just your landing page, but at least we got the issue raised), an issue with linking through to EBSCO databases (due to be addressed in the next release of Summon).

Other themes included how to use EZProxy (some insititutions run it through Shibboleth which gives a cleaner authentication, we don’t as we currently only have an old version of AthensDA), and the perennial problem of working out what content we have and how to switch it on in the Client Center. An easy example (close to our hearts) is MINTEL for example. It’s great that MINTEL reports can be surfaced in Summon, but in order to work out what to best switch on in the knowledge base we have to know (from the rep) which library codes apply to our subscription (otherwise we get the whole package of reports which we don’t subscribe to).

Switching on content in Summon would be easy if the publishing market was neatly packaged, but it is a complex landscape, as Liam Earney outlined in the afternoon when he went through the challenge facing KB+, now in Phase One of its life cycle. As an institution that only has one NESLi2 deal at the moment though, this first phase might seem irrevelant to colleagues here – but any work that shows that publishers (and subscription agents) need to put their house in order when providing us with content, (and ourselves when we buy that content & consequently legitimize it).

However I think that the issues start to kick in when we move outside the deals/packages, and start wading through the undergrowth of individual titles. For example we have to set up access to Practical Diabetes International – because it seems recent content has not been loaded onto Swetswise  and we needed an alternative access point. Searching for that title on SerialsSolutions’ Client Center gave 48 places where that title is published, with 45 relating to Wiley. Which one to switch on?

The fun starts with holdings : if I ignore 7 or so backfiles, there are 36 places where holdings dates start in 2000 as a default. A quick look in Wiley’s admin area says ‘Holdings Report – Under Construction’ – so no help there. So I go back to the Client Center, ignore any journal bundles and look for Practical Diabetes International in something called ‘Wiley-Blackwell Journals (Frontfile Content)’ that sounds non-bundled. Out of the 1961 titles in this particular group, I find the right journal, tell it that we ‘subscribe to only some of the titles in this database’, check the start date on Wileys’ pages (which is 1996, different from Swets), and add it to our collection.

The point of this is that switching content on in a resource discovery tool like Summon means getting to grips with which collections you have. At both macro and micro level. It was good to see SerialSolutions engaging with the issue of content, but I did notice that a lot of their development talk was on 360 Resource-Manager – a product which we don’t have. However the day was a great way to discover that we weren’t the only ones struggling with content issues, and I felt that at least those conversations had begun.

Hitting a moving target : ejournals, subscription agents and holdings

In light of the recent posting by Mitchell Dunkley at DMU, I thought it might be useful to share some of our recent experiences about trying to track down ejournal content. We share what seems to be a similar problem : that of actually finding out what holdings we have – and particularly for ejournals, there are different issues than with ebooks.

Stormtrooper plays human target for kids. Image credit :

Our main point of contact for ejournals data (as opposed to journal titles in databases) has been our subscription agent Swets, and following a recent account meeting with them we flagged several inconsistencies between content available Swetswise Online Content (SWOC) and content available via some publisher’s sites. Swets are still looking into this for us but uncovering some of these problems has raised several issues that I think are generic and the examples below apply across the board. (I have used screen shots from to amplify some of these points – in this the small set of journals happen to be from Oxford Journals.)

1) Differences in holdings between subscription agent and publisher. There seemed to be often a wide variety of conflicting data depending where we looked: for example we found 37 OUP titles on SWOC but only 29 listed on Oxford Journals site. I found downloading information from SWOC problematic and unfriendly – we had to break up a download into several spreadsheets and couldn’t download one spreadsheet for all our holdings.(see this screenshot : We have no idea of how often our subscription agent and the publisher update each other – these conflicts may be a simple mistake, or a reporting error that has lasted for years. Again OUP was only one example, we know of at least two other publishers where this is happening.

2) Publishers approach the problem of ejournal data in different ways. If we turn to the publisher, the Oxford site in this case seems to be structured around a  volume issue-based system – which is great for an individual user but access entitlements are shown as being an long HTML through which we had to scroll down It was difficult to work out our holdings start and enddate from this, and as far as I can see an Excel list of holdings was only available on request from Oxford’s help desk.

Not all publisher administrative sites are the same – and in fact access to ejournal holdings may be reported differently depending on whether the publisher is showing holdings via our subscription agents entitlements or via a different account.The package under which a group of titles is accessed or set up may also efffect access – for example we also get Oxford titles through Oxford University Press Archive via JISC Bundles of titles tend to be reported better than individual ongoing ejournal subscriptions.

3) Technical reasons :any discrepancies about content entitlement are often compunded by technical confusion – because of an IP-check the publisher’s site  will often say the user is recognised as belonging to the University but then is prompted to login : see (incidently this is a article we can currently access via SWOC but not via OUP ).This is often compounded when the user logs in off-campus – we have licenses with other publishers where off-campus accesss has not been made available.

4) Every institution has a different subscription history  : ‘retrospective’ entitlements to content may be complicated by insititutions not maintaining a print run in the past –  broken runs or cancellations can lead to an interruption in electronic access. This similar to the problem that has been mapped by the KB+ project  : ; and the reality is (like in most things) there is no single source of truth. 

Country pursuits : Image Credit neilrickards

5) Free access – is often used by publishers as a marketing tool, which leads to difference between what content the library says is available and what the publisher is actually offering. There is usually no clear statement on how long the offer is for. Publishers vary in how they signal it.

The national work being carried out at KB+ (a JISC project led by @liamearney) is relevant here, but the key question for us is that of scale. When these issues are scaled up per publisher, the inaccuracies can be too resource-intensive to deal with en masse, especially in the light of implementation of a resource discovery system such as Summon. This adds another layer of dependency into the the mix : for example our Elsevier Freedom collection titles also appear in SWOC and we initially found that  there are around 390 titles (about 18%) in Summon’s KnowledgeWorks’ definition of the Freedom Collection that don’t appear in our Swets holdings.

It may be that in implementing a resource-discovery system we have to review where we get the data from, and who best to trust. And also be preprared to be flexible. There’s no guarantee. Put up the best that we have, when we have it then take it down later. Journal holdings, like clay pidgeons, never stay still.

Summon : Marketing

After having a quick read through if the 7P’s of marketing I decided to focus on product & promotion.

With the product I wanted to think about how Summon would be of value to our key users, students & academic staff. In a recent library users group meeting, I asked colleagues to complete the following sentences, ‘As a student/staff summon will be of value because….’  fold over their response & pass to the next person,

Once completed I read out what people had written which led to a useful discussion on how we describe & promote summon.

Examples include ‘Summon will be of value because’ –

  • useful starting point
  • provides serendipity & a wider range of sources at their fingertips
  • a quick way to keep up to date with subject interests
  • It can help students do original research

With regards to promotion I created a table listing various communication routes, ie library website, newsletter, plasma screens etc. I then asked the group to consider from the point of view of either a student, academic staff, researcher or library staff whether the communication route was appropriate, to describe a scenario in how they might encounter this route and consider the tone of language.

I found this useful in  focusing on routes which we could make best use of. I am also hoping once I collate this information it will provide a good starting point for a marketing plan.

I enjoyed the focus of these activities as opposed to a general discussion on marketing and I am more mindful of concentrating on the value summon can provide rather than highlighting some of its limitations. It is clear from the experience of others that summon did not require much marketing as the product speaks for itself & we hope we have a similar experience too.

EZProxy testing : first impressions, ‘less is more’

We are currently are trialling EZProxy and here is an update of where we are with it. At the moment, our CICT colleagues have set it up locally on the network for us, and have got it working through our firewall. I am hoping that it might give us a complementary route to access off-campus resources alongside Athens, IP and username and password. For starters, I have put this list up to see what routing some of them through our EZProxy server might mean. 

After you log on to the server it returns a list – which we can configure by amending a text file. On this initial list are about 16 of our e-resources that we either currently not access off-campus (because the publisher doesn’t support Athens or Shib), or are currently hard to access because the student has to plough through either Athens cookie-setting screens or publisher screens (often a publisher will have many routes to off-access because they have many different types of clients, so these are to be expected) or a heady mixture of both.

Using Jing I recorded two videos from off-campus 1) accessing British Journal of Music Education  from Swetswise via Cambridge University Press as we currently do and 2) accessing British Journal of Music Education via Swetswise going directly through EZProxy. (Apologies – these are very rough cuts but you get the idea – one route asks for money even after the student logs in via Athens, the other doesn’t. The same publisher, the same journal, sometimes the same article). The point is not why this happens, but as Dave Pattern’s series of slides at #uksglive pointed up, why barriers like these still happen in academic publishing and continue drive students away to Google.

To be fair, subscription agents’ websites are not always the best places to start – but that’s matter for another blogpost. And at the moment  we are only trying to show ‘proof of concept’ for EZProxy, so yes first impressions are bound to be good. The next stage is see whether it is feasible to get this new route working in Summon and also through our institutional portal iCity ( with the help of our CICT colleagues) – which is where we factor in more control over who can access this stuff.

But anything that can cut down the number of login screens, over which we don’t have much control, is good. Anything that can mean the student only has to log in once is good. Anything that mean the student doesn’t have to click via a special route to install a cookie is good. Anything that means the student doesn’t have to work out which password to use is good.

Nothing is more annoying than a series of screens one after the other. As Miles said about music (he was really talking about login screens) – ‘less is more’. Play less, design less. Which sounds like an perfect excuse to play some jazz : So What ?

Barriers to accessing e-resources

At another UKSG breakout session Dave Pattern from the University of Huddersfield presented a humorous, stat-filled presentation (proving the two can go hand in hand), about the difficulties faced by users when accessing online library content.

To prepare for the presentation he’d posted a question on twitter:

and received a plethora of responses, including ones from our very own @mcbjazz,  which broadly fell in issues around:


With the number of responses he had he said he had enough content for about 32 presentations, not one but essentially the crux of his argument was about how difficult we, libraries, publishers, aggregators make it for users to access e-content. This is at odds with the expectation of the user who is looking for the easiest and most convenient way, hence their propensity to use Google and Wikipedia. This is demonstrated by a quote from a college freshman as part of Carol Tenopir’s research:

“Why is google so easy and the library so hard?”

and other researchers have found that users will sacrifice the quality of information for accessibility (Morville, 2005).

Dave illustrated how difficult it was to access online library content with an access query he’d recently had from a student. The user was faced with 3 potential log-ins; publisher, Shibboleth and Athens all of which Dave tried and failed. With the number of clicks and pages the user would have to go through to find out the article was not available via that route it is easy to see why users get frustrated and give up using library e-resources. Dave did a search on Google, found the article and emailed the user.

So the challenge is for libraries to make access like Google and resource discovery is addressing this but the publishers need to make more content available via resource discovery – this is non-negotiable. At Summon camp it was mentioned that an institution in the US asks whether the provider is on Summon and if they are not they will not purchase the item. As we’re currently implementing Summon is this a policy we would want to endorse? Should we not renew any products not available on Summon?

Since implementing Summon at Huddersfield Dave estimates there has been 70-80% decrease in the number of access queries, previously spending 5 hours a week and now it’s probably an hour a week. So it’s having impact and resource discovery is removing some the barriers to accessing e-resources.

What’s interesting at Huddersfield is how they are using usage stats from Summon and linking it to educational attainment via the JISC Library Impact Data Project. Through deeper analysis they’re attempting to find indicators of academic success and failure: does using e-resources at unsociable hours indicate low achievement? What are the information seeking behaviours of high achievers? Gathering data around this is really useful because if you are able to state “Students who use the library’s e-resources get better grades” it has much more clout in terms of library marketing rather than focussing on all the stuff we have and reminds me of the message Terry Kendrick gave at his marketing training to BCU staff.

Another interesting thing they do at Huddersfield is make recommendations to the borrower on the OPAC, similar to amazon which has meant an increase in borrowing of unique titles, for more details look at COPAC data activity project.

For a copy of Dave Pattern’s slides click here.

Summon: look and feel

Owing to the limited customisation possible in Summon we are planning on creating a landing page with potentially the following;

  • Search box which exclude ‘Newspaper Articles’ by default (to reduce results number)
  • The title ‘Summon’, with a new strap line
  • Explanation of what Summon is/can do
  • Links to common library services such as, A-Z eresource list, A-Z ejournal list, renewals, room booking, relevant news, Ask the Library

As well as creating a specific summon page we also thought about other locations where Summon could be embedded

  • Moodle – as could be useful for staff and students to find resources from within the VLE
  • iCity (Institutional portal)  – Adapt current library widget to include a summon search box as opposed to a library catalogue search box
  • Library website – add a search box to the main library webpage, something many other summon customers have done

    Summon examples

One Day in the Life of an Electronic Services Librarian

Unlike this, or this, my day usually starts with a coffee, then emails. I don’t have the luxury of email zero, it’s usually just making sure I don’t miss important ones. One of my main areas of work centres on the implementation of Summon,and what’s significant for me about this is that it is a joint Library/CICT project that will hugely impact our access to electronic resources which are currently held in separate places.

Being responsible for ‘Electronic Services’ has up until now meant responsibility  for those platforms where most of our eresources are accessed (eg AtoZ of Electronic ResourcesAtoZ of Electronic Journals, and/or also making sure that the methods of authentication for all of them we have in place (Athens,IP, username and password) work as smoothly as possible. Since last September, we offered a login route to our eresources through iCity that has reduced enquiries solely avia our Athens email box to about 300 over six months, so more common issues now centre around content: have we switched on full-text content to we have actually paid for, etc? Are we giving access to the right people?

Summon isn’t magic: it only ‘knows’ about most of our electronic collections if we tell it what we think those resources are, so today I am trying to work out why the holdings that we have via our subscription agent  don’t match those of the publisher (18% of our initial download from Swets didn’t match up with our Elsevier holdings according to Summon, for example). I contact several publishers eg CUP,Taylor and Francis) to start finding out about metadata for our institutional journal subs. I also begin a template to load third party holdings from Ingenta in to our Summon admin area,but decide to put this on hold for a while. Data problems are a longstanding issue, even with national initiatives like KBART, and especially where we don’t buy that many big ready-made deals.

After some mild twittering with @benelwell from Wolverhampton and then, over lunch, chat with @TheCloudSurfer over a new design for a website for a band I play in, I bump into one of the CICT developers for iCity. He confirms that a recent change he had made to the business rules concerning Athens was now working. Back at my desk,after reading the new Student Access Network Policy,I suggest a rewording to a new message screen for alumni (still to be approved:-).

Working out how all to satisfy both our students expectation & get them through the publisher paywalls as painlessly & legally as possible might be easier once we trial some authentication ‘middleware’ called EZproxy. I am excited about this a) because I asked for this software 5 years ago, and b) I want to stop reduce the numbers of hurdles wherever possible that we throw in front of the student –  hurdles like this damage the student experience.

I’m looking forward to testing EZproxy on my phone, and then I remember the mlibs project from Evidence Base here – if only web platform access was as painless as that via mobile apps : we promoted the EBSCO mobile app here some while back for example, and once students register they get access to our subscribed content on their phones, that can be set to remember their logins. I’m keen to be involved in mobile learning, and without sounding too corny, it is the future.

I manage a central fund for electronic resources,so in the afternoon follows some fund management,checking how to measure spend across financial rather than calendar year, following new procedures I agreed with our Finance Officer. Then it’s more of a mixed bag : reading our Dignity at Work policy for the Line Managers Forum I’m attending tomorrow, trying to establish whether colleagues asked us to renew their subscription to an eresource that has been up on our AtoZ pages for a number of months, signing up for a JISC webinar on their new machinable readable license system which I picked up via a tweet from JISC’s @carenmilloy, posting on our eresource blog about an Index to Theses problem (now resolved).

Luckily today I have not had to think about whether our authentication systems are giving the right people the right permissions to access content: I was involved in the initial Information Architecture Review at BCU some years back, and it is an increasingly uphill and relevant struggle, particularly as the University focusses outward on partnerships with other institutions. Last year I raised a CICT project proposal for OpenAthensLA that is still on the table, as our current version of Athens is no longer being actively developed by Eduserv, it has also free authentication ‘middleware’ (like EZproxy) that comes bundled with the subscription. But first we have to define who those users are, in a way that our systems can understand – there is a long legacy of working in silos across the institution to unpick.

My day finishes by replying to a student who couldn’t get into an electronic journal on Swets, who had logged on fine but maybe had not realised that she was only being offered an abstract or summary rather than the full-text, so in a way I end where I began…..

Summon – Content

One of the issues that has always been a priority for me when looking at resource discovery tools was content.

In order for the service to be successful we need to ensure that relevant appropriate content has been indexed and so far in testing I am encouraged with  the results we have seen.

In the first stage of implementing Summon the main content to be indexed is

We have hopes for adding local collections in the second stage.

With  the library catalogue in order to ensure the data is being surfaced in Summon we purchased ‘Capita connect’ and are now working on mapping the data and tweaking the display.

With our electronic resources (approx 100) , once we identified the ones we currently are unable to index (approx 10) , we have then been working through the list and adding to Summon. In some cases its simply a matter of locating it in the knowledge base and switching it on while in others we are having to check our holdings, import data, troubleshoot queries etc.

Capita briefing

I attended a Capita Briefing event last week in London which provided a good overview of current & future developments of its services. Its always interesting to hear from the company and see what direction they are heading as well as getting the opportunity to feedback.

I was particularly interested to hear about their developments regarding a mobile version of the library management system, Alto, which they are currently calling iLMS. The aim is to provide a ‘lite’ version of the LMS, a web interface, on devices such as a tablet, laptop etc. For example a scenario could be changing a borrowers details  or even issuing an item while out on the library floor via a tablet. At a time when many libraries are looking at moving away from being behind a desk and  finding ways to bring services and information to the user at point of need, this looks like it could be a very helpful service. An area which I think would really benefit from a mobile LMS is  stock management, it would be great if a mobile LMS and RFID could be integrated so stock changes could be made at the shelves. I really liked the idea of focusing on some of the key functions of the modules with the LMS and decoupling them from the client based LMS to provide a web interface opens up some great potential.

Resource Discovery is a topic the elibrary team have been following for a few years so it was interesting to hear about Capita’s augmented search, which allows other collections to be searched alongside Prism 3 (the library catalogue).  I personally see this as providing a similar service to Summon (more on that to come) which we are in the process of implementing. I am however interested to see how this develops especially with regards to the potential integration of the library catalogue services and other collections. Alongside ‘augmented search’ Capita continue to develop Prism 3 and one of their latest features is the idea of ‘community collaboration’ allowing students to tag items, rate books, create wish lists, write reviews etc. I think the idea of ‘community collaboration’ is very timely as we are constantly looking for new ways to communicate and engage with our students, although I can also see the potential for problems in terms of the validity of the recommendations etc. I would however be delighted if our students invested the time in providing critical feedback on our collections.

I am very interested in how resource discovery will develop, I can see potential in providing a customised search ie searching across a borrowers wish list & reading lists for items, although then this does begin to sound like the ‘Google search, plus your world’ feature which has a number of flaws having just read Phil Bradleys blog post on it.

I have also always been interested in exploiting any qualitative and quantitative data gathered on user search behaviour, ie search logs etc and whether this could help improve subsequent searches.

Capita have also recently commissioned some research on – what students want and what they do with the data – and will be sharing their findings which I am looking forward to reading.

It was a useful day with interesting people and I even managed to catch a glimpse of the changing of the guard having got a little lost on the way to the venue.

For further details on Capita