Educating our systems

JIBS workshop 13/11/08

I attended the JIBS workshop in London on ‘How to compete with Google: simple resource discovery systems for librarians’ with two agendas: one of a Copac team member, interested to see what libraries are doing that could be relevant to Copac; and the other of having recently completed some research on federated search engines, and being anxious to keep up-to-date with the developments.

The day consisted of seven presentations, and concluded with the panel taking discussion questions. Four of the presentations focussed on specific implementations: of Primo at UEA; of Encore at the University of Glasgow; of ELIN at the universities of Portsmouth and Bath; and of Aquabrowser at the University of Edinburgh. Some interesting themes ran through all of these presentations. One was that of increased web 2.0 functionality – library users expect the same level of functionality from library resource discovery systems as they find elsewhere on the internet. With this in mind, libraries have been choosing systems that allow personalisation in various forms. Some systems allow users to save results and favourite resources, and to choose whether to make these public or keep them private.

Another popular feature is tag clouds. These give users a visual method of exploring subjects, and expanding or refining their search. Some systems (such as Encore) allow the adding of ‘community’ tags. This allows users to tag resources as they please, and not rely on cataloguer-added tags. While expanding the resource-discovery possibilities, and adding some good web 2.0 user interaction, concerns have been raised about the quality of the tags. While Glasgow are putting a system in place to filter the most common swearwords, and hopefully ward off deliberate vandalism, there is a worry that user-added tags might not achieve the critical mass needed to become a significant asset in resource discovery. As we at Copac are looking into the possibility of adding tags to Copac records, we will be interested in seeing how this resolves.

The addition of book covers and tables-of-contents to records seems to be a desirable feature for many libraries – and it is nice that Copac is ahead of the pack in this regard! Informal comments throughout the day showed that people are very enthusiastic about the recent developments at Copac, and enjoy the new look.

It was also very interesting to see that some libraries are introducing (limited) FRBRisation for the handling and display of results. UEA, for instance, are grouping multiple editions of the same work together on their Primo interface. This means that a search for ‘Middlemarch’ returns 31 results, the first of which contains 19 versions of the same item. These include 18 different editions of Middlemarch in book form, and one video. While the system is not yet perfect (‘Middlemarch: a study of provincial life’ is not yet recognised as the same work), it is very encouraging to see FRBRised results working in practical situations. Introducing RDA and the principles of FRBR and FRAD at Copac is going to be an interesting challenge, as we will be receiving records produced to both RDA and AACR2 standards for a while. Copac, with its de-duplication system, already performs some aspects of FRBR, as the same work at multiple libraries is grouped as one record.

There were also two presentations dealing with information-seeking behaviour, by Maggie Fieldhouse from UCL and Mark Hepworth from Loughborough. Mark highlighted the need – echoed in later presentations – for users to be given the choice about how much control they had over their search. This was part of ‘training the system’ rather than ‘training the user’. Copac tries to be an ‘educated system’: we provide a variety of search options (from simple to very advanced) through a variety of different interfaces (including browser plug-ins and a Facebook widget), and we hope that this contributes to our users’ search successes. As part off this, we are going to be undertaking some usability studies, which we hope will make Copac even more well-trained.

A very enjoyable and informative day which has given me plenty to think about – and nice new library catalogues to play with!

All the presentations from the JIBS event are available for download:

2 thoughts on “Educating our systems

  1. Although the development of new search products for library resources is defintely interesting, I find it slightly worrying that this is being thought of in terms of ‘competing with Google’. We should rather be thinking of how we can best exploit Google and other search engines. Systems like Primo et al should open up new possibilities for this but supporting ‘cool Uris’ for records and allowing output of records and results sets in web friendly formats like RSS.

    Amazon has a search engine, sure – but it doesn’t treat this as ‘competition’ to google. If you search for a book title in google, you are much more likely to get the amazon page for that book at the top of the results list than any library record – this is something libraries need to look at exploiting their systems, data and techniques like SEO (search engine optimization), sitemaps, and website analytics

  2. I have to say that I thought the title of the workshop was rather misleading – very little was actually said throughout the day about ‘competing with Google’. The theme that really stood out for me was that of giving users various paths to resource discovery, and allowing them to choose those which are best for them – including Google. Several libraries mentioned that they are exposing their journal holdings to Google Scholar, to give students access to quality information in an environment they are comfortable and familiar with. On re-reading my post, I see that I managed to completely leave this aspect out, for which I apologise!

    Regular readers of this blog will know that we at Copac have been working to open up our content to Google through spidering – we are aiming to get the maximum possible exposure for our content, and are perfectly willing to exploit Google to get it 🙂

    Unfortunately, I think any developments in library resource searching will reference Google (at least for the foreseeable future), just as anything a little bit interactive is ‘library 2.0’. We have to accept that people will use these terms as easy contextualisation tools, even when they are not actually accurate descriptions of what is under discussion.

    Quite a long-winded way of basically agreeing with you!