reDUX a blog by the Discovery & User Experience dept

Visual browsing in a virtual world

Searching books online cannot compare to the experience of getting lost in the stacks of your local library or bookstore. Browsing is one of the primary pleasures of all book-lovers. Finding that precise book you were looking for is great, but discovering something unexpected is often better. Whether for pleasure or research, browsing is one of the best methods by which to find new reading material. As books are moved out of sight in favor of computer stations and as users become more and more reliant upon online searching, it becomes increasingly necessary to recreate this real world experience of browsing in digital land. Libraries are moving progressively toward visual searches and virtual shelf browsing in the ongoing crusade of bringing readers and books together.

Virtual shelf browsing is by no means a new concept. Library Thing, launched in 2005, is an online service that helps users to catalog and browse their (and their friends’) books. The visual interface is intended to replicate the experience of browsing around for favorites or new finds. It presents items as a collection of book covers, much like the user would see if searching through her own personal library at home. Users can even upload different covers to enhance the experience of physicality.

Hobbit covers

In 2008 Amazon Web Services launched Zoomii, an online book browsing tool that allowed users to scroll through books by genre and zoom in or out on a particular section of the “bookshelf.” This recreated the process that many people go through when in a bookstore – zooming in on a favorite author, then zooming out to see what else might be of interest, then zooming in again when something catches their eye.

It might seem that with larger collections numbering in the millions, such a virtual browsing experience runs the risk of becoming taxing for those maintaining the system and overwhelming for those attempting to use it. In 2010 North Carolina State University (NCSU), boasting a collection of 4 million volumes, proved that theory wrong. It released Virtual Shelf Browse, open source software that allows library patrons to search the shelves around a selected book or call number. Try it out yourself in the NCSU library catalog.  Search for a book, select a record, then click on the “Browse Shelf” button on the right hand side of the record to scroll through their collection by call number.

NCSU book browse

Strict call number browsing is not the only way to give patrons that same experience of discovery. OneSearch@IU presents materials found in IUCAT in a more approachable way. Each record displays a book cover, when available, to draw the user in visually. At the bottom of the record are the “Similar Books” and “Other Books by this Author” options with user-friendly scroll bars that offer patrons another way to explore the collection and unearth new reads.

Browse IUCAT

New databases for September

The following list represents new subscription databases added to the Resource Gateway from September 1 – September 30 (and some for which the vendor has changed). You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject pages. If you have questions about a particular resource, please consult its “About” file to find contact information for the resource advocate. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month.

CQ Researcher

Gale Virtual Reference Library



A new interface for IUCAT: Blacklight

As you may have heard, work has begun on a new interface for IUCAT. The IU Libraries OLE Discovery Layer Implementation Task Force (DLITF) will be overseeing the implementation of a new discovery layer, powered by Blacklight, to overlay our current SirsiDynix system. Development work is going on during this fall semester and a public Beta will be launched in spring 2012. This is a good time to share some background information around the new discovery interface, Blacklight.

What is Blacklight?

Blacklight is a free and open source OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) solution developed at the University of Virginia (UVA) Library; check the project site for detailed information. While some OSS (Open Source Software) systems, such as Evergreen and Koha, were developed to replace a library’s entire ILS (Integrated Library System), Blacklight has been designed to work with a library’s current ILS to assist in reengineering the library’s searching tools.  It uses Apache Solr for indexing and searching records and Ruby on Rails for its front end.

What are some of the features?

Blacklight features faceted browsing, relevance based searching, bookmarkable items, permanent URLs for every item, and user tagging of items. As it is capable of searching both catalog records and digital repository objects, digitized images or repositories become more discoverable for users.  Unlike MARC records, which use similar templates for different types of objects, the use of Ruby on Rails allows librarians to define behaviors that are specific to certain kind of objects.

Where can we see examples?

The Task Force will begin soliciting feedback on the local beta implementation in the near future, but in the meantime, if you would like to see more, there are other mature installations of blacklight you may review. The University of Virginia, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, and WGBH are the principal contributors to the code base. There are dozens of sites worldwide and here are some of heavy users:

If you have questions about the task force or the project, feel free to contact us!

Additional reading:

Sadler, B. (2009). Project Blacklight: a next generation library catalog at a first generation  university. Library Hi Tech, 27(1), 57 – 67. Access the full text.

Sadler, B., Gilbert, J., & Mitchell, M. (2009). Library catalog mashup: using Blacklight to expose collections. In Engard, N. C. (Ed.) Library mashups : exploring new ways to deliver library data. Medford, N.J. : Information Today, Inc. Access the record in

Under the hood: mechanics of our mobile site

DUX recently launched the redesigned libraries mobile site after several months of researching, testing, and development. One interesting aspect of the project was deciding which development frameworks to use. With the continuing explosion of mobile development, there are new frameworks and micro-frameworks popping up almost weekly. For our project, we decided on the jQuery Mobile JavaScript framework for handling most of the layout and interaction components and the Leaflet JavaScript map library for our various mapping needs. Both choices have turned out well for us.

jQuery Mobile provides many benefits. First, it improves the user experience by providing an interface built upon existing mobile design conventions. It was clear very early in the design process that native applications would not be an option for us, yet users were very responsive to designs that emulated many conventions of native apps like nested lists. jQuery Mobile comes baked with many of these conventions.

Second, jQuery Mobile enjoys all the benefits of the original jQuery library, the most noticeable of which is the way jQuery irons out many of the inconsistencies that exist between various browsers. Before jQuery (or similar libraries like Prototype), web developers would have to write separate JavaScript code for each browser to accomplish frequent tasks like AJAX (which refreshes content without reloading the entire page), or to create various interface effects. Although some work to support cross platform functionality is still necessary in some circumstances, jQuery goes a long way toward providing an abstraction layer that allows the developer to write a single instance of relatively simple code that will handle the differences between browsers automatically.

Third, the combination of these benefits greatly simplifies the client-side development process and enabled us to spend more time conducting usability testing, focusing on information architecture (labeling, arrangement, navigation, etc.), improving access to existing services (databases, catalog, library information), and adding new functionality to enhance the user experience (geolocation).

The Leaflet map library is a recently released open-source map library from Cloudmade. It’s small (under 64 kb minified), well documented, fast, supports CSS3 enhanced map behavior and HTML5 geolocation.  And it’s incredibly easy to use. Initializing a map to detect and mark the user’s location is as simple as using the Leaflet example code below:

If you would like to know more about how we used these two frameworks, post a comment below or drop us an e-mail!

Boston Globe Launches Responsive Design

This week the Boston Globe launched a new web site using what has become known as Responsive Design. Responsive Design was first proposed by Ethan Marcotte, one of the consultants on the Globe project, in the web magazine A List Apart. This design approach focuses on delivering the same content and basic design across multiple devices from desktops to tablets to mobile phones. Technically this is achieved by using fluid grids that adapt to the size of the screen, flexible images and media, and part of the CSS3 specification called Media Queries, which allow web designers and developers to specify certain layout rules based on certain conditions.

Responsive Design has been receiving a great deal of attention since it was first proposed by Ethan, so much so that he expanded his original essay this fall. Despite the increasing numbers of projects using these techniques, the applicability of such an approach to a large scale site has remained largely theoretical. That changed this week. The new site by the Boston Globe shows not only that Responsive Design can work for large sites, but that it can create a greatly improved user experience that is focused on the content and elegantly adapts to whatever device is being used to access that content. The Globe has posted a short video that shows the new site in action and provides some great context for their decision making process. The Filament Group and Upstatement, two partners for the project, have also posted an overview of their experiences with Responsive Design. For other examples using these methods, check out The images below, taken from, provide snapshots of how the Boston Globe might look at different screen resolutions.

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.

Tips & tricks for web page creators: Permalinks!

With the onset of the new academic year, you may be busily creating bibliographies, pathfinders, class pages, etc. for your students. You may find that you want to link to an individual bibliographic record for a print item (or something else you’ve found in IUCAT). Or, you want to give your users a link for a particular search in order to jumpstart their research.

Did you know that the “new, improved” OneSearch@IU (powered by EBSCO Discovery Service) offers some very nice permalink options? These can make your life (and the lives of the students and faculty you serve) easier!

To find the permalink for an individual item:
• Search for the item in OneSearch
• You will see a “Tools” menu in the right-hand column; select “Permalink”
• The permalink will open in a window just above the item record. Copy and paste it into your web page or document.
• You can shorten this long link by using IU’s official URL shortener, go.iu!

To create a permalink for a search:
• Execute your search in OneSearch
• On the search results page, in the red bar just above the results list, you will see “Alert/Save/Share” – click on this
• From here you can copy the permalink, or create an alert to notify you of new results via email or RSS feed. You can also share via Twitter, Facebook, or other services.
• Again, you can shorten the permalink by using go.iu!
• Note that when a user clicks on this link, OneSearch will re-execute the search, so they may see new results.

These permalinks will route users through our proxy server, so if they are off-campus they will be prompted to log in. After logging in they will be able to access subscription resources as usual. If you want to provide a permalink to an IUCAT item and make it accessible to those who are not affiliated with IU, you will need to use the permalink option within IUCAT.

If you have questions, please send them to DUX at

Nice to meet you, Content Strategy (A polite introduction)

If you hang out in the same general virtual space as information architects, user experience specialists, and the like, you may have started hearing the phrase “content strategy.” (Or maybe you haven’t – but I bet you will.) What the heck is that, you may wonder? And what’s that got to do with me?

Wonder no more. Reader, meet Content Strategy. Content Strategy, meet Reader.

As an emerging discipline, content strategy is one of those multi-talented beasties that draws from many different disciplines and sources. In general, it includes:

  • elements of editing, of curation, of information architecture, and of user experience design.
  • the process of managing – not necessarily creating – the content on a website (you know, the actual reason people come to your website in the first place), making sure it’s clear and usable, making sure there’s no ROT (content that is Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial), making sure information is displayed in places and in contexts that make sense, and so on.
  • analyzing and inventorying the existing content on a website, identifying redundancies and gaps.
  • managing the metadata on the site, so that people can find what they are looking for.
  • working with all of the site’s content providers to help them create content that is clear, timely, and consistent with the overall style and mission of the site.
  • selecting a content management system that will work with users in such a way as to make it easier for them to create good content, and will help them to repurpose content so that it can display in multiple places rather than rewriting it over and over (once for the mobile site, once for a branch library site, once for a policies page, once for a link on Oncourse… you get the idea).

Sound like stuff we might need to do with the IUB Libraries website? Well… yes indeed! Whether or not you hear the phrase “content strategy” in the near future, some of what you’ll be hearing from DUX as we move forward towards a better website will be driven by the principles of this emerging discipline.

If this all sounds kind of intriguing, here are a few resources that will help you understand content strategy a little better.

Start here: The Discipline of Content Strategy by Kristina Halvorson. This article from A List Apart is a nice introduction, covering some of what I mentioned above and more.

If you liked that, you might want to read more articles on content strategy from A List Apart; it’s one of the topics they cover regularly. Check out, for example, “Infrequently Asked Questions of FAQs” – and then think about whether an FAQ is really the best “container” for the information you are offering your users. That’s content strategy in action!

Another introductory article I really like is “Content Strategy Can Save Us All From Slobdom” by Meghan Casey, from the Brain Traffic blog. This is not an in-depth article, but it uses a metaphor many of us understand all too well – trying to clean up a cluttered, messy bedroom. Read through the entertaining description of how the bedroom problem is solved and you will clearly see how the content strategy process works and how it can help your website be neat and tidy, with its contents easily findable. Plus, it has Fraggles! What’s not to love? Brain Traffic has much, much more to offer the budding content strategist or the curious onlooker – highly recommended.

For those of you (myself included!) who still love books made out of paper, here are a couple that we can recommend; DUX has desk copies of these but you may have trouble prying them out of our grubby little hands (we’re actually referring to them with some frequency as we begin to evaluate our website and plan a content analysis):

Content Strategy for the Web book cover Halvorson, Kristina. Content Strategy for the Web.
Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2010.
The Elements of Content Strategy book cover Kissane, Erin. The Elements of Content Strategy.
New York: A Book Apart, 2011.

Of course, most people who serve as content providers for a website like ours don’t need to become content strategy specialists. Not at all. But understanding the basic concepts will help you to understand how to create better web pages, and why DUX makes some of the decisions that it does about the Libraries’ website as a whole. (And as a bonus, it seems that content strategists are often pretty good writers – a lot of these articles are very readable and even entertaining!)

Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Leave a comment on this blog post, use the “Contact Us” form, or talk to anyone in DUX! We’d love to hear from you.

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.