Usable Library of the Week – GVSU

This series features library sites, pages, or services that are notably user-friendly.

Have a usable library that should be featured?  Let me know!

This week’s usable library is:

Grand Valley State University

What I like:

Grand Valley State website

Do Better Work – research help page

Discovery – shift away from library as starting point?

Yesterday Ithaka S&R shared an interesting conclusion from their recent 2013 Library Survey: 

Discovery in the Library – Shifting Ground? 

They found that fewer library directors agree with the following statement:

“It is strategically important that my library be seen by its users as the first place that they go to discover scholarly content.”

Their findings:

In 2013, 78% of library directors agreed with the statement quoted in the paragraph above, down from 84% in 2010. This decline was consistent across all types of institutions. Respondents may be moving to some degree toward alternative discovery strategies that focus on different aspects of the research process. As one respondent wrote, “I don’t want to presume that all patrons should begin with us… and that if they don’t, we’ve somehow ‘failed.’  After all, isn’t the outcome more important than the path traversed?”

I see this as an encouraging trend: discovery will always be a part of libraries, but we should shift investment away from the “starting point” or “portal” model and invest more in supporting discovery and access from anywhere.

Usable Library of the Week – Canton Public Library

This week’s usable library is:

Canton Public Library, Canton, MI

What I like:

  • Integration of library catalog with website
  • Mobile friendly, responsive site
Canton Public Library

Canton Public Library catalog search

Discovery systems – testing known item searching

Many libraries have responded to user demand for Google-style searching by implementing web scale discovery services such as EDS, Primo, Summon, and WorldCat Local.   By exporting their local catalogs to the meta-aggregate article indexes provided by these vendors, libraries create “single search” across articles and books.

One frustration with this approach has been that local collections get “lost” in the overwhelming amount of subscription article content.  For this post I wanted to measure  discoverability of local collections in the four major systems.  I conducted a test of known item print book searches in eight different implementations.

The test

I chose eight libraries with large local collections that had implemented one of the four major discovery services.  All eight combined local and subscription content in a single result list. For comparison I also tested Google.

I searched using the keyword default search box and did not facet or sort.  In each system I ran the following types of searches:

  • Single word titles (e.g. 1984)
  • Titles with “stop words” (e.g To have and have not)
  • Title/author keyword (e.g. Smith and On beauty)
  • Book citation (copied from bibliographies)
  • ISBN  

All of my searches were for print items held by the libraries.

The results

Search comparison results graph

Results by type of search
  • WorldCat Local won, ranking highest in all search types
  • Google came in a close second
  • Summon scored well in all categories, but did not excel in citation searches
  • WorldCat Local and Google were the only systems to rank highly in citation searches
  • Primo scored low on author/title searches and failed citation searches
  • EDS did the worst: stop words generated errors, and no results were returned for citations or ISBN searches

Title vs. keyword matching

Some systems ranked keyword relevance higher than an exact title match.  This could make single-word titles hard to find. For example, a user looking for the novel “V” by Pynchon might see this first result in EDS:   EDS title result


This test only measured known item searching for print materials.  In that category it is not surprising that WorldCat Local, a discovery system built around OCLC’s union book catalog, excelled.  It is also not surprising that local print content tends to get “lost” in systems focused more on subscription article content.

EDS and Primo were the low performers, but it should be noted that these tools may perform significantly better in different implementations:  I tested only two implementations of each system and did not take into account any customized “boosting” of local content that may be applied by libraries.

This test, while cursory, does suggest that library discovery systems continue to have problems with known item searching.  Our users come to these systems with expectations formed by Google: they  expect to be able to search by author/title keyword, ISBN, and to be able to copy and paste formatted citations.  And we are failing to meet those expectations.

Library sites tested

Smith College/5 Colleges Consortium (EDS)

University of Georgia (EDS)

Oxford University, UK (Primo)

University of Minnesota (Primo)

University of Texas Libraries (Summon)

Duke University (Summon)

University of California Berkeley (WorldCat Local)

University of Washington (WorldCat Local)

The Googleable library – helping users where they are

The other day a faculty member asked me why he couldn’t access his favorite medical journal directly from the publisher’s site – and I didn’t have a good answer.  This leads me to ask: with scholars increasingly starting their research on the open web1, shouldn’t libraries be focusing more on ubiquitous access, and less on discovery?   Shouldn’t we prioritize giving patrons access to library resources wherever they find them?

Where college students begin their search

OCLC Perceptions of Libraries, 2010

Here are 5 ways libraries can become more “Googleable”:

1)  Search engine friendly library catalogs

Our users should be able to find library resources from a search engine.   But this remains a challenge for libraries, as search engine harvesting of vendor catalogs is often poor or non-existent. There are some notable exceptions: OCLC’s WorldCat has been successful at search engine exposure, and libraries at Stanford University and the University of Virginia have built search engine optimized catalogs.  

Try these Google searches to see library catalog results on the first page:

  • schmidt collection of lute and viol music [returns catalog records from Stanford library (Searchworks) and WorldCat]
  • the landscapes of the sublime 1700-1830 [returns catalog record from Villanova University library]
  • overland in 1846 [returns catalog record from University of Virginia]

2)  Google Scholar library link resolver integration

Google Scholar’s Library Links allow researchers to access full-text directly from Google Scholar searches, and has been widely implemented by libraries.  But library links settings are not easy to find on the Google Scholar search page, and many Google Scholar users remain unaware that they can access full-text from off-campus.  North Dakota State University has a good informational page on how to set your library links preferences in Google Scholar.

Google Scholar library links

Setting up linking to library resources in Google Scholar

3)   Shibboleth – direct access to licensed resources from publisher sites

By leveraging open source single sign-on (SSO) authentication services2 such as Shibboleth, libraries can enable access to licensed library resources directly from participating vendor sites:

Shibboleth login

Example of Shibboleth login

4)  LibX – accessing resources from publishers, booksellers, and more

Libraries can implement LibX, a browser extension that gives users the ability to link to library resources from ISSNs, ISBNS, and other standard numbers found on the open web.  Here’s a screenshot showing an Amazon ISBN linking to the library catalog:  

Amazon ISBN linking to library catalog

Amazon ISBN linking to library catalog

And here is an example of a PubMed ISSN linking to full-text via the library’s link resolver:

PubMed LibX linking

Linking to full-text from PubMed

5)  Search engine optimization (SEO) – Finding library services from the web

When library web pages are crawlable by search engines, users can easily find information about library services from the open web.  Libraries can ensure their services pages are Googleable by following Google’s guide to SEO.

Try these examples of library service searches:

  • harvard library hours
  • course reserves u of michigan
  • how long can I check out a book from the library chicago


1. OCLC’s 2010 Perceptions of libraries report found that 83% of college students begin their research in Google, while only 27% ended up at the library’s website.  Faculty use of library discovery tools is also decreasing, as reported by Ithaka S&R’s 2012 US Faculty Survey.

2. Ann Cary’s 2012 paper provides a good summary of library authentication systems, including Shibboleth.

Top 10 Academic Library Websites 2013

Here are my favorite library websites for 2013.  I expected this year’s sites to be:

  • Googleable  – I wanted to be able to access library resources and services from anywhere.
  • Searchable - I wanted to be able to search for anything in a single search box.  I did not want to have to navigate lots of menus to find “how to renew a book” or “library hours” or “ENG 101” or “dostoyevsky.” 
  • Helpful  - I wanted research help where and when I needed it:  I didn’t want to have to slog through lists of “tutorials” or “FAQs.” In addition, I wanted troubleshooting help for technical and access problems. 

Here are the 2013 winners:

1)  Stanford University 

  • Stanford has successfully achieved what has been dubbed “full library discovery:”  users can search for services as well as resources from a single search box.  Note the search suggestion “renew books:”
Stanford University library search box

Detail Stanford University library search box

  •  Stanford has also opened their library catalog to search engine harvesters – making their resources truly “Googleable.”   Example –  a web search for “luryier diamond opera collection” returns the catalog result on the first page: 
Stanford web search

Web search result

2)  University of Notre Dame

  • I like this site’s prominent and understandable help resources: “How to find” and “starting your research.”
  • Notre Dame also has an excellent information literacy tutorial. For more good examples of library tutorials, see this post.

    Notre Dame library detail

    Notre Dame library website detail

 3)  Ithaca College

Ithaca College library detail

Ithaca College library website detail

4)  Florida State University 

  •  Another site with great help features, including finding articles.
  • Some features I especially like: access points for different student populations, a good “I need to find” left menu, and their computer availability widget.
Florida State University website

FSU library website detail

5)  Syracuse University

6)  Virginia Commonwealth University

  • VCU is launching a new website in January – and unfortunately, I like the old one better – especially the “start my research” and “articles” links.  
  • I do like the excellent Journal Linker on the new site – an understandable, usable tool for finding articles and books from citations.  

7)  Williams College

  • There is nothing fancy about this small library website – but it works.  I especially like their very comprehensive “how to find” pages: 
Williams college website

Williams College website detail

8)  Stonehill College

  • Another good small library site.  I like their clean, uncluttered design, and their prominent help – including off-campus access and technical help pages. 

9)  University of Michigan

  • An excellent “browse by subject” feature – searches not just research guides, but databases and journal titles as well.  
University of Michigan website detail

University of Michigan website detail

10)  MIT

  • Vertical, rather than horizontal search box tabs are easier to see. 
  • Limiter for e-resources directly on the main search box. 
  • Multiple links to help – including “expert help.” 

Testing web-scale discovery services: how well do they work?

My library is currently evaluating web-scale discovery services. We are considering Exlibris’ Primo, Proquest’s Summon, Ebsco’s EDS, and OCLC’s WorldCat Local. (If you want to learn more about web scale discovery, I recommend Athena Hoeppner’s good overview.)

As part of this process I’ve been looking at how libraries have implemented these four services. For this post I did an informal test of 10 academic library implementations, plus Google and Google Scholar. I selected both small and large libraries with fairly standard implementations – those that used the native, out-of-the box interface and combined book and article results.  I compared them using some typical undergraduate searches.

The searches

1)  The republic  (known book, user wants physical book and availability info)

2)  Cyberbulling in middle schools  (note spelling mistake)

3)  Library hours  (whether services can be incorporated into the discovery tool)

4)  do women’s magazines negatively impact body image in young girls  (natural language searching)

5)  Book Published in 1640 Sets a Record at Auction (known article search – a recent NY times article)

6)  civil war primary sources (using format as keyword)

7)  nature (journal title)

8)  JSTOR (database title)

9)  gun control agenda is a call to duty for scientists (known article from Science)

The results

There was no clear winner among the vendor products – and there were a few problems.  The best results came from using a combination of Google and Google Scholar: these provided the most relevant results for known article searches, primary source searching, and database by title. Google/Google Scholar also did better than vendor products at correcting spelling mistakes, keyword searches, and natural language searches.  Google even found “library hours” when the institution name was included in the search. There was only one test the Google services failed: known book searches.

So I’m left with the following question:  do libraries really need to invest in discovery services? Or do users prefer reliable, streamlined access to library resources from the search engine of their choice?

Detailed results

1)  The republic  (known book, user wants physical book and availability info)

Summon, Primo, and WorldCat Local passed this test.  

EDS failed this test. The first result in both EDS implementations was a completely non-relevant journal article with a remarkably long title that happens to include the word “republic” many times.  It takes a really long scroll to get to relevant book results. Both Google and Google Scholar also failed, because they could not provide availability information.  

results of EDS search

“The republic” search in EDS

 2)  Cyberbulling in middle schools  (note spelling mistake)

All vendors caught the spelling mistake.  Summon and WorldCat Local responded with “did you mean cyberbullying in middle schools?”  while Primo and EDS implementations simply automatically brought back results for cyberbullying in middle schools.  Google and Google Scholar showed results for cyberbullying but had an option to change back to the exact spelling.

3)  Library hours  (are services incorporated into the discovery tool?)

This test clearly relies on whether or not the library has opted to add library services data into the discovery product – as well as whether or not this customization is possible.  Only two of the 10 libraries I looked at had done this:  University of Miami with Summon, and MIT with EDS.

I also tested Google with library hours, adding the institution name to the query, e.g., “Brandeis University library hours.”  9 out of 10 libraries had Googleable library hours (within top three search results.)  Colby College and Northeastern University were the most Googleable: they brought back a feature box with today’s hours:

Google search for library hours

Google search results for Northeastern University library hours

4)  do women’s magazines negatively impact body image in young girls?  (natural language searching)

The winner here was definitely Google Scholar, with the most relevant results on the first page. The larger libraries (Penn State, MIT, Northeastern, Brandeis, and Maryland) also brought back relevant results on the first page.  There was no noticeable difference in relevancy ranking among the four vendors.

5)  Book Published in 1640 Sets a Record at Auction (known article search – a recent NY times article)

All vendor products failed this search.  This article, published in the New York Times a few days ago, is available through the Lexis Nexis Academic database.  All of the libraries I tested subscribe to Lexis.  So I can only assume that the fact that this article was not returned means that Lexis is not included in any of the discovery services, or does not work well in the discovery services, or has not yet been picked up by the discovery services.

In contrast: this article is the first result returned in a Google search.

6)  civil war primary sources (format as keyword)

Google did best with this search: bringing back sites that feature primary source material on the American Civil War.  All four discovery services brought back items about primary source material, and items about the wrong war – e.g., the Russian Civil War.

EDS did slightly better than the other three: they have a subject term for “primary sources” as well as a “primary sources” facet.  A couple of relevant results were returned, even without faceting.

7)  nature (journal title)

All four vendor services passed this test, bringing back the journal title within the first three results. Google also passed (first result), while Google Scholar failed.

MIT’s implementation of EDS does a nice job displaying Nature as a featured result and linking to both online and print access:


MIT result for Nature

8)  JSTOR (database title)

This test relies on whether or not libraries chose to add databases by title to their discovery service. The JSTOR database was in the first three results for 7 out of 10 libraries.  For three Summon libraries, JSTOR came up as a “recommended resource” (a feature of Summon 2.0).

For some libraries, the first result was a review of JSTOR, rather than the database itself.  In Google, JSTOR is the first result.

9)  gun control agenda is a call to duty for scientists (known article from Science)

All the libraries I tested subscribe to the journal Science.  But for Babson College (Summon) and Brandeis (Primo) this article was not returned.  For all other libraries, the correct article was the first result.

This article was the first result in both Google and Google Scholar.

The libraries

Babson College – Summon (newspapers included in default search)

Penn State – Summon (newspapers included in default search)

Colby College – Summon (newspapers not included in default search)

University of Miami – Summon (newspapers not included in default search)

Connecticut College – EDS


Brandeis University – Primo

Northeastern University – Primo

Portland Community College – WorldCat Local

University of Maryland – WorldCat Local

Many libraries, many users: how research libraries solve UX problems

I used to work at a small college library, but this past summer moved to a position at a large research university.   And while the library collections at my new institution are unsurpassed, our very wealth of resources present some interesting usability challenges:

  • Many libraries: my institution has over 70 libraries, many of them highly specialized. It is challenging to create a single library website that serves as the “front door” for everyone.  
  •  Many users: our users are as diverse as our collections. With doctoral and faculty researchers, affiliated medical professionals, undergraduates, and continuing education students, there is no “typical” student, and no “typical” research need.  

In my search for solutions, I looked at 25 of the largest and best research libraries in the US. Here is what I found testing the following scenarios: 

Problem 1:  An experienced researcher who knows the name of their favorite database and wants to  navigate right to it without browsing through long lists.

Solution:  The University of Notre Dame places a  “Databases” tab right on their search box, and also include an “About Databases” help feature for novice researchers.  Cornell University places their “Database names” tab in a vertical display  - making it easier to see.  They also include good explanatory mouseover text. 

Notre Dame databases detail

Notre Dame homepage detail

Problem 2:   A Freshman needs to find articles and books on the topic “medical marijuana” for an argument paper.  She does not want to wade through tons of obtuse medical articles, and is a sloppy speller (“mariwana”) who expects automatic correction.

Solution:   Notre Dame’s discovery implementation is undergraduate-friendly.  They’ve added an “About OneSearch” link on the default search box to help less experienced researchers understand what they are searching.  The “did you mean” feature guessed “mariwana” right, and they’ve customized faceting to be more user-friendly (e.g. “Related searches on this topic” rather than “subject.”)

Notre Dame search detail

Notre Dame search detail

Problem 3:  A faculty member wants to contact a subject specialist by email.  He does not want to have to fill out a form and wait to hear back from someone.

Solution:   MIT’s homepage has a link under  “Expert help” called “Librarians & subject experts.”  Easy to find, and easy to understand!

MIT library homepage

MIT homepage detail

Problem 4:   An out-of-state researcher who wants to visit a specialized library in their field.  They need to know when the library is open, but do not remember the library’s name.

Solution:   Harvard, with 70+ libraries, has a searchable “hours and locations” page that allows researchers to easily find the library that fits their needs (and I admit I’m biased here!)

Harvard library hours

Harvard hours page detail

Problem 5:   A continuing education student, with no experience using online library tools, has a paper due in 6 hours and needs to know (quickly!) where to start and what to do.

Solution:   Notre Dame came in on top in this area as well  They have a user-friendly tutorial that is easy to find under “Help & Guides – Starting your research.”  And because it is modular, students in a hurry can get right to the help they need.

Notre Dame tutorial

Notre Dame tutorial detail

Problem 6: A PHD student is conducting an an extensive literature search on their dissertation topic. He wants to search across ALL library resources at once, but ONLY in his field of research.

Solution:   None!  This was difficult or impossible at all the sites I visited.  Some sites split search results into articles or books, and those that combined results did not provide discipline faceting – only subject facets, which did not work well.   So this is an area that still needs work!

What is it? Helping students decipher online resources

Is it a book?  An online journal article? A website?  What is the title?  Is it scholarly?

Undergraduate students often struggle with these questions when they encounter resources in a Google search. They have trouble determining if they are looking at a webpage or an e-journal, and cannot decipher article or book citations. This is not a new problem: a 2001 survey by UCLA found that 62% of undergraduates could not correctly identify an article citation.

There is a need to improve how we teach students to identify and evaluate resources in a digital environment. Most of the LibGuides, tutorials, and handouts created by libraries mistakenly assume that students can determine basic facts about resources – the title, the author, the date, the journal.  But in a digital environment, this information can be difficult to find or understand.  Take this Sage journal article I found in a Google search:

Sage journal article

Article found in Google search

Students may not be able to tell if this is a book, a website, or a scholarly journal article.  And they may have trouble identifying the article title: is it “Business information review?”  And there is no information about peer-review.

We often tell students that they can identify articles by the volume/issue information, but that information is difficult to understand when presented like this:


We need to do a better job teaching our undergraduates how to identify scholarly resources in an online search engine environment.  Sure, we can keep steering them to our library databases – but ultimately, they will need to learn to navigate a Google world.

Here are three good examples I found that help students understand citations:

  •   Ithaca College has a simple yet effective illustration of how to read a citation on their article page
  •   The University of Louisville has a good handout on understand citations in different formats
  •   Clark College has a good quiz that includes a section on deciphering citations

RDA in the OPAC – some examples

March 31st has come and gone. RDA records are flooding into our OPACS.  What difference do these records make to our users?

Back in 2011 I worked on a project comparing AACR2 and RDA music records.  My goal was to determine how RDA would fulfill the FRBR user tasks (to find, identify, select, and obtain) in a traditional OPAC environment.  My conclusion was that without “FRBR-ized” systems these records would have little impact on discovery.

Now that RDA has arrived, I was curious to see how music records (scores and sound recordings) are being displayed in OPACs.  Here are some RDA records I looked at:

1)  Mozart vocal score – OCLC #835097509

 Texas State San Marcos – Millennium ILS  

2)  Mozart aria fragments (score) – OCLC #823230461

This is what I noticed:

  • Some systems index creator names with their RDA relator codes (composer, performer, transcriber, arranger, etc.). For example, an author search for “Stanley Sadie, arranger of music” will return only works Sadie arranged, not those he edited.  This allows users to “find” and “identify” with greater accuracy.  However, I did not find any systems able to limit by role. 
  • Some systems are linking related works: “based on,” “contains,” and “supplement to” related works are discoverable from the related record.  But again, I found no systems that allow searches for all works based on a given work. 
  • Most of the OPACs I looked at were suppressing the 3XX format fields in the public display. Others (mine included - I admit it) are bringing them them in with no formatting – so words like “unmediated rdamedia” are displayed.  Wasn’t RDA supposed to be more, not less readable? 

While relator codes and related works have improved the “find” and “identify” user tasks, my conclusion remains the same: without significant development of library systems, as well a shift to an encoding standard that supports linked data (BIBFRAME), RDA has little impact on discovery.  It is a good start, but it is  just the beginning.