To Bento or Not to Bento – Displaying search results

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.

Bento Box Examples:

Columbia University  

Cornell University  

Dartmouth College  

North Carolina State University 

Princeton University 

Stanford University 

University of Michigan 

University of Virginia 

Read more:

North Carolina State’s seminal article on how and why they created their “QuickSearch” bento search:

Lown, Cory, Sierra, Tito, & Boyer, Josh. (2013). How Users Search the Library from a Single Search Box. College & Research Libraries, 74(3), 227-241.

Aaron Tay’s  2015 article “Implementing a bento-style search in LibGuides 2”:

Blog post on why Columbia opted to bento:

NCSU bento results

NCSU bento results

3 thoughts on “To Bento or Not to Bento – Displaying search results

  1. Oh Cloudy, you did it again. You led me astray. I was just going to *glance* at your latest blog post but later find that I’ve looked at bento websites, skimmed one of the references and printed out the article AND talked about search boxes with my colleague.

  2. Thank you for a pros vs cons of bento-boxes, particularly focusing on academic libraries use. Great to see that most of the bento-box examples use responsive web design too. Working well on a range of device sizes will be far more future proof.

    Below the fold is not as much of a problem. Users do scroll and how much and how fast they scroll is a changing trend that will vary across audiences. The boxes layout/order should be designed carefully and revised as often as necessary or better still allow users to personalise the order of boxes.

    Is the fold a moot point?

    I’m keen to hear about bento-boxes that can be personalised for logged in users, or at least user groups. Many institutions have distinct user groups who want/need different boxes and ordering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *