Encore Synergy 4.1: A review

My library just launched our first discovery tool.  As an Innovative library, we opted for III’s Encore Synergy discovery product, and were among the first to implement version 4.1.   This review is based on my experience of implementing and working with this product for the past several weeks.

Encore Logo

Encore Synergy 4.1

Is it a “true” discovery tool?

Innovative markets Encore Synergy as a “discovery tool,” claiming it will “present your full range of resources—articles, digital collections, books and more—in a real-time environment built for today’s Web user.”    I thought that this meant users would be able to search across both traditional catalog resources and journal article databases.  In reality, while an Encore Synergy search does present both book and article results, these results are only nominally integrated.  Article results display only as “teasers,” and are not limited by the same facets as catalog results.  To perform detailed article searches, users still need to link out to individual databases. This lack of integration was something of a disappointment, especially as I know other discovery tools (see Ex Libris’s Primo Central) do have this functionality.

More silos: Database Portfolios

Database portfolios

Detail of portfolios, showing default databases

Encore Synergy 4.1 presents article results using a feature called ‘portfolios,’ or databases grouped and searched by subject area.  A default article search will display results only from the first database in the first ‘portfolio’ listed, and users can then select the database of their choice to see more results.   While this approach does ensure that article results are of a manageable size, it differs significantly from the way catalog results are displayed.  An initial catalog search returns all resources,  and facets can be added to drill down, while  article searches display results from only one database at a time.  I suspect that this difference may prove to be confusing to our novice users.

Patron functionality, or, where am I?

Encore Synergy 4.1 does not integrate as well as I had hoped with our Innovative WebPAC Pro patron functionality features.  In WebPAC Pro, users can login to their accounts, add items to “My Lists,” place holds, etc.  And while Encore does include a link to “My Account,” it takes users out of the Encore environment and puts them into the traditional catalog.  In addition, Encore lists are separate from catalog lists, Encore article results cannot be added to lists in either environment, and we have yet to get Encore holds working properly.  This has been a source of great frustration, especially as one of the reasons we chose to stay with Innovative for our discovery tool was we assumed it would integrate well with our ILS!  Lesson learned: when evaluating library softwares, don’t assume anything!

How to make freshmen happy: A user-friendly interface

Encore Synergy does live up to its promise in presenting a familiar, user-friendly search environment.  The Google-style single-search box, colorful facets, and tag clouds look more like a commercial website than an academic catalog or database.   This is especially beneficial for our incoming freshmen.   The other day, I found one in the stacks looking bemusedly at the LC subject heading chart.  When I asked if I could help, she said: “where are your books on the FBI?”  I steered her to the nearest computer and introduced her to the Encore search box, displayed prominently on the homepage.  “Just type in FBI,” I said, “and it will show you everything we have.”  Her face lit up, and I could tell that this was something she understood.  Sure enough, the first page of results showed colorful book jackets, gave the call number location in the brief display, and had big, clear icons to indicate item format.  She was right at home.

Encore search screen

Encore Synergy 4.1 search screen

Conclusion: Look before you leap

While Encore Synergy 4.1 is not all that I had hoped it would be, it is a significant leap forward in discovery service at my library.  We learned many important lessons during the selection and implementation of this product:  including the need for a more rigorous evaluation process when choosing a product, and not assuming that our ILS vendor is necessarily going to be the right choice.  I wish we had taken a closer look at other products, and had communicated with other libraries to learn from their experiences.  If you are considering Encore Synergy, please don’t hesitate to contact me, I’d be happy to share my library’s experience.  The more we learn from each other, the better our libraries will be.

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