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…


Social media group: update

The Social media group was set up last year to explore how this could be used to engage with students and promote Library and Learning Resources (LLR). The library already has it’s own twitter account @BCUlibrary and the elibrary team have this blog and the eresources blog, but what else could we be doing?

After seeking advice from the university’s Social Media Officer it was decided that rather than create a specific Facebook page for LLR to make use of the Corporate Facebook page, which already has a fanbase of nearly 7000 and grows daily, and have a LLR post each Friday.

Picture of BCU Facebook page

An area on SharePoint has been created to keep track of the services that have been promoted but also forthcoming slots. Our first post on the university’s Facebook went up in February and so far we have covered My Assignment Planner, Science Direct Freedom Collection and Meebo to name a few. If there is anything you want promoted such as a new service or collection, to celebrate success within LLR contact your team’s rep.

P.S. The elibrary team rep’s spot is also up for grabs whilst I’m on maternity leave, let me or Damyanti know if you’re interested.

23 things that might make the student experience of our e-resources better

student protests liverpoolThe recent student protests have highlighted for me how students will be ‘paying’ even more for the services we offer, and it struck me that improved access to our e-resources becomes more important for those who are already digging deep.

image credit : Matt_Baldry

It’s important we get this stuff right. There is often a ‘dislocate’ between theory and practice when we talk about access to e-resources  and in my view we need to draw attention to this contradiction, when we draw up our strategies. In a nutshell, if the library ignores the student, they have already walked away.

1.One number on the card that is the same as their student number,their library id,their network id,their printing id.Why should they have to remember different password formats?

2.One library place for searching for stuff,not several places. If you have to have several places/portals,then make them look the same as possible by using similar widgets or html.

3.Avoid AtoZ lists that you scroll down,make them searchable because new students will not know what each resource is.

4.Avoid using publisher names and acronyms or technical jargon that mean nothing to the student.(,what’s an ‘proxy’? What does ZETOC mean?)

5.If you use subject headings on your web pages make them relevant to courses taught or don’t use them at all.

6.If you have cataloguers, use them to index your online presence,make sure what they add to your catalogue record is actually useful to the student.

7.If you can control your web presence,don’t make it blocky or overcrowded. Distractions in the form of different fonts,colours that don’t match give a clear message that you haven’t taken the effort to discipline your design enough.

8.Most students have a mobile phone,& many will have smartphones, if not now when? At the very least,communicate library notices using text, & get a mobile friendly site.

9.Your subscribed content has to be ‘quotable/tweetable/bloggable so that academics can easily link to it on their VLE,MLE. Use stable URLs : if not, students will be left at the ‘front-door’ of the resource and will come back to the library to help them find that article again.

10.Use images to make your information engaging – not just lines and lines of text. That’s a throwback to the days of ‘hypertext’ linked page after page – when we librarians thought we owned the web and were the only publishers of content. Students learn differently now. It’s a web platform, not a novel.

11.Students and paywalls don’t mix. They are getting quality subscription e-resources for ‘free’ by paying to study so they don’t expect to run up against a publisher asking for money. If its possible minimize how the student login is seen to the publisher by using a proxy so that the right screens are returned back,to them.

12.Publicise downtimes and interface changes whenever possible. If you not given enough notice routine for scheduled downtime,as opposed to server fail,complain loudly.

13. If you subscribe to a journal that can only manage a username and password login based on a single ccuser,don’t use it. At the very least, they should be offering you IP-checked access.

14. Use a proxy service which you manage yourself to give you access off-campus via IP if your publisher doesn’t support Athens or Shibboleth.

15. CD-ROMs are for loaning out to the student,not for hosting on a network. If the publisher can’t scale up to a web product don’t buy them.

16.Use anything open like DOAJ, they don’t need a password. If its stuff you own the rights to, don’t bury it in a system that is not interoperable and uses an arcane method of access.

17. If your institution hires a consultant to write a report on your identity management, or how poor your business processes are, listen to them. Don’t forget the student has paid for their course, and will expect a minimum level of things to work together. Shout if they don’t.

18. If people aren’t using a resource, bin it. If there is any money next year you can always bring it back. Don’t hang on to it because one member of academic staff publishes in that journal and we can’t annoy them. Or because we think it only might be useful to us librarians for professional developement. Don’t be a squirrel.

19. Your front-line desk staff and your teaching librarians will take the brunt of the system failures, identity mismanagements, and general unfriendliness of the systems you put in place. If it’s hard to explain, then it usually means we or the publisher have made it difficult to access.

20.Students will go to Google or Wikipedia for information because they are comprehensive, easy and quick. They are prepared to sacrifice some of this ease of use when they try and get through to an e-journal article or chapter of an e-book but only just : they will quickly walk away.

21. If you put up information about anything, be prepared to take it down,edit it almost immediately. Don’t own or feel precious about anything you put up there – or get involved in debates about content/syntax/ownership. Remove it and/or put it back up tommorrow.

22. Work out what your core usergroups are : if you have to spend your energies on groups of students that are not fully registered, do so sparingly. When resources are tight, know your audience.

23. Make your resources discoverable – if the student can’t search across them, they will lose the will to live in navigating across native interfaces. Each publisher thinks they have the answer,and even if more and more are becoming ‘googlized’ and have the obligatory ‘Web 2.0 add-ons’ – the big ones still hide their content away in silos that are hard to reach.