Many academic institutions – including my own – have moved to a “bento-box” style search result display: a single search box that returns side-by-side results from multiple library search tools, e.g., library catalog, article index, institutional repository, website, LibGuides, etc. In this post, I explore the pros and cons of “bento-ing.”
Why to Bento
- Eliminates the “default search” problem: Unlike the traditional “tabbed” search box, the bento display returns results across many library sources. This eliminates the “default search” problem, where users tend to favor the most prominent search option and end up missing important resources.
- Integrates website search: A bento display can integrate library website results, allowing users to type things like “how do I renew a book” into a single search box and get meaningful results.
- Less overwhelming: By presenting search results in separate streams, users can more easily navigate to what they need. This is in contrast to the way discovery tools combine local catalog results with massive article indexes, often resulting in an unwieldy number of search results.
- Format types more evident: Novice users, such as undergraduates, may not have a good understanding of the difference between books, journals, and articles. The bento display attempts to separate by format type, helping users distinguish between them.
Why not to Bento
- Small library: The “bento” design has been primarily adopted by large research institutions with many resource sources. If your library’s entire collection is easily discoverable from a single discovery tool, “bento-ing” might simply create unnecessary complexity.
- “Below the fold” problem: Some resource categories may end up “below the fold,” meaning users will need to scroll down to see them. This creates the same problem as a tabbed search box – users don’t see results from all library sources.
- Silos remain: Bento box display doesn’t remove the “silo” problem – library resources still reside in multiple platforms. Users will most likely not find what they are looking for on the “bento” results page, and will need to click “more results” for a particular platform (catalog, article index, library website, etc.). Once in that “silo,” they may not not come back to explore other sources.
- Not enough data: We don’t really know yet if “bento” design has solved anything — more user studies are needed, particularly studies measuring bento vs. non-bento usability.
Bento is a compromise, not a solution
So long as libraries are dependent on external platforms to provide access to our resources (licensed journals, publisher sites, discovery systems, etc.), usability problems will remain. Libraries will not be able to give our users a seamless search experience across all content until all scholarly resources are openly available. In the meantime, “bento-ing” remains a useful compromise for many libraries.
North Carolina State’s seminal article on how and why they created their “QuickSearch” bento search:
Aaron Tay’s 2015 article “Implementing a bento-style search in LibGuides 2”: http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/10709
Blog post on why Columbia opted to bento: https://bibwild.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/article-search-improvement-strategy/