As many of you know, the User Experience (UX) Committee has been hard at work updating our default search results page to make it easier for people to discover what’s available at ZSR Library. We’ve tested the new experience with students, and it’s a hit! The new page will go live on Wednesday, with a blog post on Here@ZSR to follow. Here’s some background:
Why the change?
We’ve suspected for a long time that many people–especially novice researchers–have trouble with Summon. For more than a year, the UX Committee pored over Summon error reports, gathered anecdotes, and observed student use of Summon in and out of classes, and we confirmed our suspicions. Folks can find results, but they frequently don’t know what those results represent, and they often report being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of results.
Searching for information in a library used to require knowing both what you need and where to search for it. By offering a single-search box experience, Summon and its cousins have helped users better understand where to search. However, many novice researchers still don’t understand what they need, and Summon doesn’t do much to help them with that. In an un-scoped search, Summon would often provide millions of results in dozens of different formats that students don’t necessarily understand. Filters help, but we tend to forget that it’s usually only the most advanced searchers that use filters at all. Our Summon usage data suggests that from the homepage search box, users selected a format limiter less than 20% of the time, meaning that the vast majority of searches went directly into the full, un-scoped search, with streaming video and books alongside journal articles and dissertations. To many novice researchers, those dissertations look awfully close to what they think journal articles look like, and since they’re coming from ZSR, they tend to use them without a second thought. We set out to solve problems like these.
Our new default search results page helps people figure out what they need by making clearer what it is they’re looking at. We felt that folks should know right away whether the results they’re seeing are books, journal articles, news, or films, and if they’re looking for just books, or journal articles, or films, they should have one-click access to more items of that type. Our new search groups like items together into boxes, making it easier for researchers to know at a glance what they’re seeing. If what’s needed are more books, folks can just click “See more book results,” and they’ll be whisked away to all of the books and book chapters we might have on their topic. And if they don’t see exactly what they’re looking for, they can see the list of additional formats at the bottom of the page, or jump to a full Summon search.
We also wanted to provide researchers with helpful library resources that novice users might not even know about. Now, for most searches, folks will see suggested librarians, research guides, and databases for their topic. We’re still working on optimizing these recommendations (this will likely be the UX Committee’s primary summer project), but they already work pretty well. Our operating principle with the librarian recommendations is that “something is better than nothing.” That is, if we connect someone to a human–even if it’s not exactly the right human–that’s far preferable to an empty search box. A human can redirect, while an empty box leaves users guessing.
We’re also excited about the “Best Bet” feature: for many searches, such as the name of a database or a common library task (like “study rooms”), the search will suggest a prominent button at the very top. We’re looking forward to enhancing this feature in the coming weeks.
We’ve seen that boxes work! Over the last few years, the UX Committee has considered various solutions to reported problems with Summon and with library discovery at large. This style of interface, usually called “bento box,” has been used to address similar issues at other libraries, including at NC LIVE, University of Michigan Libraries, NCSU Libraries, and others. Inspired by them, we designed and implemented our own tool and began testing its effectiveness with students. Our testing confirmed that for the most part, people have a much easier time with the pre-sorted results when they know they’re after journal articles, for example, but might not have otherwise used a format limiter.
How did we test it?
We talked to you and to our students. We introduced the tool for testing over the Summer of 2018 and continued beta testing until the end of the Fall semester. We gathered feedback in a few ways: through feedback forms, web page analytics, and structured usability testing with students. We found that users considered the new interface much less overwhelming than the standard Summon search. Many users were delighted to see that the new search results showed them other library resources they didn’t know existed. We believe that we’re now much closer to helping users understand what they need.
What are the advantages?
There are a lot! This change has advantages both for us and for our users. We’re now able to make our own resources–context-relevant librarians, research guides, materials from Special Collections & Archives–discoverable alongside other search results, and using our own tool lets us make usability improvements quickly based on ZSR’s unique needs and feedback. With Summon, we were quite limited with what we could do with how the interface behaved.
Additionally, users say that they prefer the new page to the old one and are more likely to use it, calling it “more effective” and saying it’s “faster to find things” with it. In our testing, we found that students were quite delighted when they learned about the types of help resources we can offer them.
What hasn’t changed?
The quality of the results is the same. The new search results interface is powered by a few different search tools behind the scenes, including Summon and VuFind. We haven’t changed any metadata or improved the ranking ability of those tools. That means that if a search already brings up undesirable results in Summon because of insufficient metadata, we can’t force it to bring up better results in the new interface. What we hope, though, is that the new interface helps lessen the effect of bad results, by giving people a better understanding of what they’re seeing.
What if I preferred Summon?
It’s just a click away! Like the Catalog, Find a Journal, and Find a Database, Summon is one of many search tools in our toolkit. We know there are situations where a standard Summon search could be better for you or our students, and we believe our experienced users should be able to access it anytime they need it. If you need to use Summon, just follow the link to it right below the search bar. You’ll also notice that we’ve given Summon a new icon, which will help folks better understand us when we refer to Summon by name.
Tell us what you think! The UX Committee still wants your feedback. We’re making the new search results interface live, but we’ll continue to test and refine it. We hope we can answer any questions you have about this change or about the new search results page. If you have questions or feedback, contact a member of the User Experience Committee (Kyle Denlinger, Kevin Gilbertson (chair), James Harper, Rebecca Petersen May, Carolyn McCallum, Jon Moore, & Meghan Webb)