Music to our eyes: special considerations for discovery

We’ve written a bit about in this blog about discovery, and specifically about Blacklight, which will be implemented as a new interface for IUCAT next summer. One particularly interesting possibility opened up by discovery interfaces like Blacklight is the ability to create customized search views based on a variety of criteria – by format (like music, or film & video), or location (a specific campus), to name just two.

You can see an example of this in action at UVA – they have both a music view and a video view. In the music search, users have the ability to limit using both the standard facets, like language, and by facets specific to the subset of materials, like instrument – as illustrated below.

 As you might imagine, with the ability to provide customized search interfaces come many important decisions about what data to index and display, and how to best to do so to fully optimize discovery.  Our colleagues in the Cook Music Library & the Digital Library Program have been engaging with these questions for some time through the Variations/FRBR project, one deliverable of which – the Scherzo search interface – is powered by Blacklight.

Last week, a subgroup of the Emerging Technologies committee of the Music Library Association released a draft document on Music Discovery Requirements, which can be found at – they are inviting public comment on the document through December 5th, and anticipate releasing a second draft early in the new year.

I hope those of you with expertise in this area will review and comment on the draft document, and we also invite comments and questions on the topic of optimizing discovery of music records here.

More responsive design

Call me a nerd (I admit it! It’s true!), but I just can’t get enough of looking at responsive design. Ethan Marcotte, Mr Responsive Design himself, recently wrote a piece for .net magazine listing his twenty favorite responsive sites. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at re:build this July – not only is he tops for UX & such, but he also came across as a super-nice guy with a sense of humor (exhibit A: his website,

Check out our earlier post on responsive design for more info, or have a look at this super-quick video to see a very simple responsive design in action.

A Simple Demonstration of a Responsive Web Design from Monkey Do! on Vimeo.

New & Improved: OneSearch@IU

Not only are branded services easier to publicize, they are also easier to talk about. Since we see the launch of a discovery tool such as EBSCO Discovery Service as a logical next step in the process of better enabling discovery across all our collections, we have adopted the already existing OneSearch@IU brand, thus enabling EDS to be promoted and publicized at the Bloomington campus as “an all new, improved OneSearch@IU.” (This will have no effect on other IU campuses, or on existing OnCourse library services.)

Where can you see OneSearch@IU in action?

  • Top Recommended Resources: OneSearch@IU appears as one of the top recommended resources, listed on the Libraries’ home page and on the Find Information page (see below for more on that!).
  • Search results: Results from OneSearch@IU will be returned as part of the existing search results page (the orange box, or ‘resource discovery’ search). Icons indicating item type, and when available, book covers, will be presented as part of the results. We will be conducting user testing in the fall focused on the content and presentation of results returned on this page.
  • Subject Guides: In lieu of the federated search, which was always limited to a small subset of available resources, we will be implementing OneSearch@IU as a tab within research guides (example: Gender Studies). Our intention is to provide easy access to this resource for all users while retaining the carefully constructed resource listings maintained by collection managers. (Speaking of which – collection managers, you can also add OneSearch@IU to your resource lists.)
  • Find Information: The Find Information page has historically served as the page to which databases refer users upon ending or exiting a session. While many vendors have moved away from this behavior, the page still sees reasonably heavy use: it indexes high in Google search results for IUB Libraries, and the library link for some OnCourse course sites points here. We see an opportunity to begin to integrate search behaviors that we would like eventually to expand throughout the site – tabbed search box, etc. — and to evaluate and improve our approach.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your comments.

Discovery: questions & answers

As many of you may know, DUX has been working for nearly a year to implement EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS), and we’re happy to be launching for the fall semester as a new, improved OneSearch@IU.

Let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start, as they say. We’ve asked and answered a lot of questions throughout this process, and this post will focus on a few that I think are most fundamental.

What is a discovery tool, anyway?

Here’s one way of thinking about it: a discovery tool integrates a collection of disparate data sources so that search results are presented as a single, merged set.

How is this different from federated search?

I’m so glad you asked! It’s true, federated search products allow a single query to be simultaneously delivered to multiple information resources, and then collect those results and display them as a single set.  To accomplish this, the tool must generally rely on “translators” which enable communication with the varied sources, with varying levels of success. Also, the ability to include content in the search is dependent on the existence of a translator. In contrast, a discovery tool relies on a unified index created by bringing together data from a wide array of publishers, vendors and other sources (including library catalogs and institutional repositories) into a single integrated set. This results in improved relevancy ranking, and the ability to broaden the scope of searches to include local and subscribed content, and both print and digital materials from an array of disciplines.

This is better how?

While not exactly apples to apples, it’s a whole lot closer – one big set, indexed “all of a piece” improves relevancy across the board to increase the precision of the results returned. Catalog records may be bananas, but it’s a lot easier to properly weight the distribution of bananas and apples if you can put them in a single barrel, then teach the system to recognize them and sort accordingly. (Actually, I think I know what’s bananas – and it’s this illustration.) Also, the discovery tool typically presents an attractive interface designed to meet user expectations for ease-of-use, sharing, and other functions common to commercial sites such as Amazon or Google.

What does EDS include?

A quick answer to that question is: IUCAT records, all EBSCO content, and content from a large number of other vendors & sources (including Wilson, JSTOR, Elsevier, GPO, HathiTrust, Sage, MUSE, Web of Science, Wiley-Blackwell, Alexander Street Press, and others).

Who’s going to use this? Are we aiming this at undergraduates?

Clearly, this sort of tool is likely to appeal to undergraduates with its single search box,  interdisciplinary coverage, lots of full text, and easy export/print/share capabilities. I’d venture to propose that those same features might find fans amongst other user groups. I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that while the ways, or the reasons, that graduate students, faculty and researchers might use this tool may differ from those of undergraduates, there are plenty of use cases for those groups too. Personally I’ve found it very helpful to do a quick survey of what we have on a topic for myself, or at the reference desk – I like being able to easily retrieve articles, books from the collection, and other items with a single search.

Getting the word out: putting your slides online

Love it or hate it, sometimes you just have to crack open PowerPoint (or Keynote, for you Mac users) and put a slide deck together.  Even though Steven Bell opined on ACRLog a couple years ago that, as a profession, we might put too much pressure on ourselves about snappy presentations, I’m guessing most folks aren’t going to cast worry to the wind when it comes their turn to stand in front of the crowd. Frankly, I hope we don’t, because the consequences can be serious: don’t tell me you haven’t heard of the dreaded “death by PowerPoint.” I also enjoyed a recent column from Tweed (via the Chronicle of Higher Education), tweeted as: “When PowerPoint is outlawed, only outlaws will have the power to bore us.”

After you’ve spent all those hours preparing your talk, or workshop (or interview presentation), you might want to share it with the world, right? I’ve done some presentations and workshops in my time, and while there are many other venues available, my money is with SlideShare. (Actually – not my money, because SlideShare is free.) SlideShare lets you freely distribute your presentations to the world while at the same time choosing the Creative Commons copyright level you feel to be appropriate.  It also allows you to choose whether you’d like to enable downloading, which gave me the good feeling of having control over my content while still being able to share it. My PowerPoint files are very image heavy, but SlideShare handles the large file size without any problems and even lets you embed YouTube videos.

SlideShare also incorporates a number of social-networking features, so other SlideShare users can “favorite” your presentation or leave comments, for example. It displays related content next to your own slides, so you can view similar presentations. Best yet, as previously mentioned, it’s free to sign up for an account.

More features to consider:
●   Share the stable URL for your slides on Facebook and Twitter, embed your presentations directly into your LinkedIn profile, or install a blog widget.
●    Want to know how many times your presentation has been viewed? No problem! SlideShare keeps track of hits for you, as well as how many times it’s been embedded in blog, etc.

Other (free) options: Prezi, 280 Slides, Google Docs

Does your heart belong to some other online slide sharing service? Tell us all about it in the comments.

Get your IUB Libraries news on the go…

I think being mobile-optimized is one of the niftier features of our new blog service. Using a plugin (WPMS Mobile Edition), we are able to simply flip a switch and … pow! automagically enable mobile-friendly blogs.

Curious what this looks like? Here are a couple screenshots of the reDUX blog taken on my iPhone.

mobile friendly blog (screenshot)mobile friendly blog post

Shiny! If you are running your own WordPress site (just a single site, rather than a multi-site installation like ours), you might want to try something like WordPress Mobile Pack.

Blah-gs No More: Newer, Faster, Better, Shinier

Join Anne Haines & Courtney Greene of DUX for an overview of the new IUB Libraries Blog service (, launched earlier this month. In this session, they will discuss the new features and functionality of the blog service, give a peek into the day-to-day of maintaining a blog by demonstrating the staff interface, and present an overview of how to get started blogging for a department, unit, or Libraries group for interested parties.

When: Thursday, June 30th, 1-2p

Where: Wells 043

Some highlights of the new blog service:

  • a combined RSS feed, allowing people to easily subscribe to all content from all IUB Libraries blog service blogs
  • a set of themes that are customized for the IUB Libraries (fully branded & in conformance with IU identity standards)
    • plus, all blogs are now mobile-ready!
  • blog content will now be returned as part of the library site search, making it easier to find
  • statistics tracking using Google Analytics
  • a more robust server and an updated WordPress platform
  • support with setup and blog maintenance from DUX

A policy statement for the IUB Libraries Blogs can be found on the intranet.

Thanks to everyone who helped launch this project, and special thanks to Keith Welch and Brian Wheeler for their technical support.

Happy blogging, & we hope to see you at the DRET workshop!

Brave new catalogs

Last week our department attended a NISO webinar titled, The Future of Integrated Library Systems (pt 2): User Interaction.

In it, three next-generation library systems were discussed. As we are looking at Blacklight & VuFind for our next generation catalog discovery layer here at IU, I’ll focus not so much on each system’s technology, but more on the other information covered:

  • Jennifer Bowen from the University of Rochester presented on the eXtensible catalog. Many of the design & functionality decisions were driven by the ongoing ethnographic research being conducted on that campus (see Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester [PDF]).

    They approached the project with the perspective of thinking of the catalog in terms of “what do our users need to do.” They also have a new book, Scholarly practice, participatory design and the extensible catalog, just released by ACRL. Two examples of what they learned:

    • Users want to be able to choose between versions/formats
      Their users definitely had preferences when searching (limit to online only – avoid microforms – etc), and preferred when the catalog results showed search terms in context. They started with MARC and did a lot of transformation of the data, working with FRBR (works, expressions, manifestations, etc)
    • Researchers value scholarly networks
      One way they accomodate this in their community is by defining local metadata: for example, noting the advisor on the record for a thesis.

  • SOPAC 2, a catalog primarily aimed at public libraries, was presented by John Blyberg of the Darien Public Library. Many of the items from this part of the webinar would be of more interest to public librarians and were perhaps not quite as transferrable to our situation, but I did think their robust and creative use of tagging was quite intriguing. They used tags to create “virtual displays” or easy ways to collect items around a concept (“Staff favorites”) or even a theme (“Movies Better than the Book”). As you can see from the previous example, they were also quite open to subjective metadata, and found that it added a lot of value for users.
  • and WorldCat Local, presented by Anya N. Arnold of the Orbis Cascade Alliance (Pacific Northwest) and Allie Flanary of Portland (OR) Community College. As we are generally more familiar with this system, there were fewer lightning bolts for me in this portion, but it was easy to appreciate their emphasis on user testing and on collaborating amongst the user community to identify and implement improvements for a better user experience. One quote in particular caught my ear (I’m paraphrasing): “Saying ‘Because Google & Amazon can do it’ is a reasonable expectation for our users.”

You can see info about the webinar here:

If you’re interested in viewing the recording, drop us a note in the comments or contact me directly!

Barcodes & QR … a quick scan

One of the nifty things about having a tiny computer (that is, your smartphone) on your person all the time? You have a whole new way to interact with the objects around you. The buzz on QR codes (sometimes called 2-D codes) has steadily grown for the last couple of years — after all, once something’s featured on primetime television, you know it’s catching on.

Libraries and higher education have been busy building services with these technologies as well – here are just a few examples.

Ryerson University Libraries put QR codes in their catalog records to provide another quick way for users to access bibliographic (title, author, etc.) information and location information about the item using their mobile device. Then they took it one step further, and developed their own mobile application for scanning the QR codes, as well as barcodes. Read the write-up in a recent issue of the Code4Lib Journal.

At the University of Waterloo, some students developed a mobile app called QuickCite, which produces formatted citations (MLA, APA, Chicago) from scanning a barcode … and they’re selling it for the low, low price of ninety-nine cents.

The action isn’t all in Canada, though – at the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio, computer science professor Bo Brinkmann [together with the Miami University Augmented Reality Research Group (MU ARRG!)] has been working on a prototype for a shelf-reading system powered by QR codes. The Android app leverages augmented reality to scan the shelf, identify out-of-order items by their spine codes, and even goes so far as to calculate the fewest number of steps to order them properly. Awesome! Together with two librarians, he gave a presentation at ACRL in Philadelphia last month, and I was really impressed at what I saw (read a write-up of the session).

Have you seen any cool library applications for QR codes or barcode scanners? Feel free to share in the comments.

Searching for answers

And now for the exciting conclusion … this post is a continuation of last week’s post on search behaviors, inspired by Jakob Nielsen’s recent article.

The problem, simply stated: For early adult users in particular, lots of things to search, too many results, how to choose rightly?!

There is a long, distinguished list of brighter minds than mine who have addressed this problem. Nevertheless, here are some of my thoughts on how to make progress:

Information literacy (or fluency, if you prefer). As an academic library, does not nearly everything we do begin and end with teaching? It’s so easy to agree with Nielsen about teaching the people to fish: we know that so many of them are figuratively standing in the middle of the creek making a grab, and they’re getting hungry. Thank you, and keep fighting the good fight, instruction librarians everywhere. [Here’s a special shout out to the good folks of our Teaching & Learning department.]

Specifically, it’s a high priority for DUX to enhance our current class pages so that they better meet the needs of our teaching librarians and our teaching faculty as they work together to support and facilitate student learning at all levels. For other ideas related to this, see point three below.

Better discovery. First, if we want civilians to use library search interfaces – voluntarily and joyfully, anyway – they need to be much, much more like Google or Amazon. Rest assured, I too have a deep and abiding love for the power of peer review, scholarly content, controlled vocabularies, indexing, and their noble brethren. (Please don’t run me out of town on a rail!) But, really – who wouldn’t prefer a friendlier, more responsive IUCAT, for example? In a world where quality content and fantastic interfaces co-exist happily, even experts will love being able to do what they need to do more efficiently and more easily. There’s a lot of power in leveraging our end-users’ existing mental models, particularly as a starting point for novices. Once we hook that unsophisticated user with some positive experiences, she’ll be more ready for us when we roll out the specialized resources and advanced functionality that information professionals know and love.

Second, if as Nielsen said, people are treating search engines like ‘answer engines,’ then we are uniquely positioned in our ability to load our discovery resources with good answers … in a ‘chocolate is good for you’ way, not in a ‘here’s a bran muffin for Halloween because it’s healthy, nevermind that kid over there with the king size candy bar’ way. Up to now, I’m guessing the complex trajectory from identified information need (AKA assignment?) to PDF-in-hand feels more like the latter than the former.

Bringing this back to IUB: EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) is one obvious way to reach the “early adult” population Project Information Literacy talks about, and we at DUX have been working towards implementing this resource, checking and double-checking how catalog records display in the interface, which features to enable and which to switch off, and thinking a lot about how best to integrate its results into the Resource Gateway. Look for big action on this front very soon – like, this summer.

EDS isn’t the only thing, though – the integration of a discovery layer as the public interface for IUCAT is going to be a huge step forward in this area, and a system-wide task force is working away to evaluate the two candidate applications, VuFind (example: Mirlyn [Michigan]) and Blacklight (example: Searchworks [Stanford]). If all goes to plan, we should all be basking in a new OPAC as soon as next June.

Contextualizing information. The world isn’t simple. Neither are library websites – and across our profession, we are engaging with the hard work of eliminating unnecessary institutional complication from the inherent complexity of scholarly information and the research process.

Let’s frame the user’s experience in a way that helps them process what they see … and let’s do it invisibly and automagically, whenever possible. In some cases this is going to mean beginning by presenting fewer choices, and trusting our users to dig deeper to more comprehensive listings when they are ready. This idea can be hard for us to accept – but careful curation is everything. Imagine a huge empty wall in a museum: first, fill it with paintings; then, picture it with only three. What does this say about focus of attention?

In other cases, it’s going to mean finding ways to dynamically deliver relevant help – a project near and dear to my heart, and one that has a high profile on the DUX radar, is the development of a system that will allow us to do just this across our website and within IUCAT, too. We do a good job of embedding mechanisms for feedback (IM, email) and we can continue to seek opportunities to expand as vendors enable this functionality within their interfaces, and as we update and redesign our mobile presence.

Rendering the intricacies of our many-faceted collections, services and resources into something that’s simple enough for a novice, but powerful enough for an expert, might be the one of the very hardest – and most worthwhile— things we could ever do. Now, I’m going to wrap up this post so I can flee the building before everyone reads what I said about Google …

More food for thought
A great article from A List Apart: You Can Get There From Here: Websites for Learners
Some comments on mental models from Nielsen
A nice brief excerpt from an interview with usability expert Don Norman
Steve Krug on How We Use the Web from Don’t Make Me Think
Again, Project Information Literacy