Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How are libraries designing their search boxes? (III) - Articles, Databases and Journals

This is probably the final part of my mammoth series of posts analysing Summon libraries. To recap.

In June, I used Libwebcats to extract about 200+ libraries that self-identified to be using Summon. Then I analysed in the following blog posts

1) How they were branding the service
2) How they were designing the Summon box and also how many were using single box vs multi-tab/box or no box at all.
3) An analysis of the 60 libraries which were using multi-tabs/boxes, the average number of tabs they were using. I also categorized the tabs into 10 different types and analysed the popularity, the position they were placed etc. I also highlighted selected examples of "Website" , "Course Reserves", "Research Guides", "Digital Collections" and "Google Scholar" search tabs , the 5 least popular types.

In this last past of the series, I am going to finish the series by looking at the following tab types in reverse order of popularity.

1. Summon
2. Catalogue
3. Journal
4. Database
5. Articles


In use by 17 libraries (28% of libraries). The most common tab position for this is 2nd. Usually this if it is used is used with libraries with a relatively small number of tabs (3-4).

While this tab is the 5th most popular, it was not as popular as I expected, perhaps because as most libraries have Summon in the default tabs which handles keyword searching for articles very well anyway, so why waste an additional tab on it?

I can think of only 3 reasons

1) Search using a different broad database not well indexed in Summon
2) Search using a summon scoped search because books and other materials might "swamp" out journal articles
3) Cater for known article title searching.

I was kinda expecting #3 to be the main reason but I was wrong.

To me it not immediately intuitive what an "article" tab does. Firstly are we talking about a keyword search for articles or are we talking about a search designed for known item searching?

While Summon and other web scale discovery services with their large indexes are very good for known article searching, theoretically this is not the most reliable way to do so and in fact "article finder" or "citation linkers" or considered superior at least in terms of articles reachable (See Different ways of finding a known article - Which is best?)

Of the libraries in my sample, this issue was settled quite quickly, none of them displayed the citation linker/article finder by default. At best they linked to it.

University of Toronto Libraries maintains that constant blue strip below all tab options, saving the need for additional tabs, as their 3 options below correspond to our "Research Guides", "Databases" and "Articles respectively". 

Western Michigan University Libraries is perhaps a cleaner example of a link to the citation linker, except they chose to link to the SFX article finder not Serialssolutions' one which means they are probably maintaining 2 knowledge bases, showing the complex alternatives available. :)

More about "article finder" in the section on "journal tab".

Western Michigan University Libraries is also one example, where the article tab, consists of a search of a specific database rather than a broader index.

In this case, I don't quite understand the reason why ProQuest Research Library is the one chosen, since they would be covered mostly in Summon which is this Universities' default power search. It is also noted that the browse Subject-Specific Database, links to a Libguide with A-Z database listing (populated by Serialssolution - SpringShare partnership), duplicating the database tab.

UConn Libraries give you a choice of searching EBSCO or Google Scholar. I would suspect this library has a large number of databases in EBSCO, and given EBSCO includes many databases , A&I not well covered in Summon, this seems to be a good idea.

The library also seems to market this tab as searching for articles that the library may not have access to, mouseover tooltip states "Not all results are available full-text". Similar to Western Michigan University Libraries there's also a link to a database page.

Ottenheimer library just has text links to databases, so theoretically this counts as a "Database" tab using my criteria.

But almost all the other libraries use Summon scoped search in some way,which perhaps is the most straight forward use. But even then there are a few options.

First though "articles" imply "journal articles" and most libraries scope just to journal articles content type ,that's not the only choice possible.

This library includes Newspaper Article and Trade Publication Articles as well. The University of Texas Libraries goes even further with

  • Conference Proceedings
  • Market Research
  • Newsletter
  • Newspaper Article
  • Paper
  • Trade Publication Article

The design of the box using the Summon scoped search can be a plain box like what University of Leicester library uses , though I personally think since you have gone to the trouble of having a separate box you might as well include more options with checkboxes etc.

University of Texas Libraries design  makes most sense to me, allowing you quick access to perhaps the two most important limiters, peer-reviewed only and full-text only.

University of Toronto Libraries (who we saw earlier) has made a choice that makes less sense to me.
For them, the articles tab can be easily converted to a search all tab by unchecking the "limit to journal articles" tab, which is the only limiter. 

I wonders why one would do that, since their "default all" tab already does that (with optional checkboxes for "search by title" and "limit to online").

                                                     NCSU Libraries

NCSU Libraries, one of a few libraries that has a bento style  default search, has perhaps the most sophisticated article tab, they include the limiter peer-reviewed only (not on by default) and the ability to do a filter search by title or author in pull-down.

As a nod to helping known item search, they encourage users to enter dois, and it seems they have special code to detect it and send the user directly there rather than using Summon.


Used for searching Database titles. In use by 32 libraries (53% of libraries)

The most common tab position for this is 3rd, though 4th is almost as popular. Generally this tab is used as a substitute for Journals or if Journals tab exist it is the 4th.

The case for a database tab in the presence of Summon is easier to make compared to articles tab hence it's appearance is more frequent.

If you are looking for a database it is almost always a known item search. 

Summon while not perfect for a known item search is generally capable of finding an article title (assuming indexed), because the article title is usually unique enough to surface it. 

Try a database name search in Summon, often you find the first few results dominated by articles about the database, which is extremely annoying.

Despite the fact there is a Database recommender which currently is unreliable at best, and a database content type facet (in use by very very few libraries), relying on Summon to find a specific database is not a good idea.

Databases tab could also be a concession to librarians and advanced users who want quick access to their favorite databases.

Database tabs tends to have the following modes and link outs 

1) Search mode - usually title (begins with? search in title field?)
2) Browse by discipline mode
3) Browse by A-Z , rarely by material type
4) Listing of popular databases, new databases, trial databases

Where the user is brought to, can include

1) Resources Page maintained by librarian.
2) LibGuides - occasionally A-Z lists populated by Serialssolution - SpringShare partnership
3) A-Z lists by exlibris metalib etc
4) Some search system (e.g catalogue, next generation catalogue) scoped to database type and perhaps title.

I don't notice anything particularly worth commenting so, will just show a few representative types.

University Rochester Libraries is mainly search based though it has  a good listing of browse types.  Temple University Libraries is similar though replacing Browse by Material Type with "New Databases"

For a more browse based interface see Vassar college libraries , which uses pull down menus & A-Z links.


This is the most popular tab next to catalogue and Summon with about 38 libraries using it (63% of libraries).

The first common tab position for this is 3rd. Usually next to Summon and catalogue.

The main thing I noticed is that about 7 libraries put a link to "citation linker", "Article finder" etc for known item searching.

There seems to be a fear that users would confuse the search in the "journal" for a journal article search.


VirginiaTech University Libraries states the possible issue up front.

Other phrasing including

a) Find article from a citation - University of Texas Libraries

b) Have a citation? Find your article with Citation Linker - Western Michigan University Libraries (SFX)

c) If you already have a citation and want full text, try Citation Linker. - W.I. Dykes Library

d) Use Citation Linker to search for a specific article citation - Eastern Michigan Library

e) Are you trying to retrieve a specific article? Try the Article Finder - Drexel University Libraries

f) Citation Linker - Florida State University Library

This works out to about 21% of journal tabs with links to "Citation Linker", and 17% of article tabs with links to "Citation linker". Libraries that have both article tabs and journal tabs and have a "Citation linker" link, tend to place it on their "journal tab", indicating that they think they need the link there more.

Perhaps users drawn towards the word , "journal" will tend to go there to search for articles.

Personally I am not sure about this. A user searching by article title in a journal tab will quickly learn it doesn't work. True, weaker students might never figure it out and assume the library doesn't have it, but I argue that's a small minority, most will quickly work out the purpose of the journal tab espically with proper wordings about A-Z browse listings etc. Also I have some internal evidence based on tracking from my institution that this is true.

On the other hand, an "article" tab - typically a scoped Summon Search might work occasionally or even most of the time depending on what article is searched. This creates a false confidence that when you can't find it via the article tab the library doesn't have the article online, this is of course false.

So perhaps a citation linker here might be a better idea. Certainly if you have both a "articles" and "journal" tab, I would suggest, users looking for known articles will be more likely to pick "Articles" , though I suppose if all you have is a journal tab, it makes sense to stick it down there.

Ejournals vs Journals 

Everything I mentioned about why a Database tab can be useful, even with a Summon default tab applies for Journal tab, except Summon usually has a Journal content type by default.

Again, there are varying way to create a journal tab box including

1) Search mode which typically is more complicated then in database search with options "Title begins", "Title equals", "Title contains all words", and ISSN. - This is to handle close title matches.

2) Browse by discipline mode

3) Browse by A-Z

4) Browse by publisher .

The other major issue that makes "journal" tab search complicated is that while all databases are online, journals can be in both print and online versions.

The problem here is that for most libraries, the best, most efficient journal management system is their A-Z lists/Ejournal portal and in this case since we are talking about Summon, using libraries this is usually the Serialssolutions A-Z ejournal portal.

The fact most of their searches in the Journal search have the same options is big giveaway they are using the Ejournal portal search.

As the name denotes most libraries only enter their ejournal holdings though a few do enter their print. So what do you do if you want a search for both?

Some libraries can get away using a catalogue scoped search, assuming they catalogue every journal even from aggregator packages but even in those cases, classic catalogues generally don't have a well developed browse by A-Z, and subject browse which Serialssolutions Ejournal portal offers.

So such libraries are stuck with a passable search for journals (print or ejournals) but no good browse options for print journals.

Still, in my sample many libraries like Florida State University Library , Middlebury Library , S.C William Libraries etc and quite a few others have print holdings in their A-Z listings so they can offer simple interfaces for both print and ejournals for both search and browse.

I suppose it makes sense that these libraries would be over-represented in this sample, because after all we are looking at libraries that chose to make a  specific journal tab, but I would guess as a whole most libraries do not have their print holdings in such lists.


Some libraries just refuse to over-think things and it seems to me while they label their tab "journal" it is actually covering only ejournals.

Others dodge the problem by labelling clearly they are handing ejournals only, hence reducing the case to the same as databases where you have to decide browsing options etc

And yet others try to handle both cases with two different types of searches (Catalogue + Ejournal typically)


ASU Libraries gives priority to Ejournals, with one search bar and one browse by subject category (this is both using Serialssolution's EJournal portal) and uses the classic catalogue to search for print journals. Notice there are no browse options for print.

The American University in Cario is pretty much similar, except replacing a browse by A-Z Ejournal instead of browse by subject.

UConn Libraries is a variant where the default search and 2 browse options are ejournal only, though the search can be changed via pull-down to search the catalogue is I suspect designed for print journals? Again the browse options are for EJournal onlys.

                                                                  University of Texas Libraries

University of Texas Libraries journals tab is a variant using radio buttons instead of pull-down menus.

"Available online" uses SFX A-Z not Serialssolutions though. "Available in print" uses classic catalogue.


Hope this has been useful for you. The main take-away is that because libraries have so many systems and format types, there are dozens of ways to design search boxes. Following the crowd is not always the best idea, though looking at general trends does give you an idea what is out there, so you can narrow down the designs for your user testing.

My main aim in fact was to study the "article" box, and it seems most libraries in the sample do not promote usage of citation linker (about 10 in total out of 60 using multi-tabs). I suppose given that the literature suggests users have problems using those systems and Summon serves as a substitute for known item search (though obviously not as reliable), librarians may start promoting this service less and less.

BTW If you want to keep up with articles, blog posts, videos etc on web scale discovery, do consider subscribing to my custom magazine curated by me on Flipboard.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How are libraries designing their search boxes? (II)

This is part II of How are libraries designing their search boxes? 

A quick recap, in June 2012, I used  Library Technology Guides Libwebcats , did an advanced search (free registration needed) for libraries  using Summon and went to their websites to study various characteristics including how they brand the Summon Service and how they designed their search boxes.

In the first part, I listed the general ways Libraries were creating Summon search boxes. I also noted that Multiple search tabs/boxes was a common design making about 51% of the sample.

Type of DesignNo of libraries%
One Search Box 4435        
Multiple Search Tab64 (including 4 "Vertical style", excluded from analysis below) 51
Multiple boxes on Search page 76
No search box118
Total126 100

I noted that of the 60 libraries, 55 had Summon tabs and most of them placed Summon as the first position.

Summon - Position in tab rowNo of libraries

But that was a Summon related posted,  in this post we will analyse the top tabs,

Number of tabs in use on average by libraries

No. of tabs Libraries

The average number of tabs in use was 4.6 tabs, and the most common number of tabs in use was 4.

The maximum number of tabs used was 7.

An example of such a library is University of Victoria Libraries.

7 might seem a lot, but actually two libraries

have 8 tabs if I include the catch all, "More" tab.

The librarian in me finds it all very impressive,  though one wonders if users might be confused with so many choices.

Types of search tabs

As you might expect there are quite a lot of possibilities for search tabs to be created.

Above shows the main types I have classified them into and the positions they are placed. For example, for search boxes I classified as "Articles", there are 0 examples in the first tab, 8 in the second tab, 6 in the third tab and one in the fourth tab etc.

The actual description/labels used are different for each library (see below) of course but this is just for the purpose of my analysis.

I split them into the 10 different types of tabs/boxes based on functionality. Below I review the 10 different types, provide some statistics and offer observations.

I also screenshot representative or interesting examples for the 5 least common tabs but will reserve in-depth discussion of the top 5 (Summon, Catalogue, Journal, Database, Article) for the next blog post.

1. Summon 

Self explanatory. There are about 55 of them, the most popular next to the catalogue.  This excludes 5 "blended" searches that may or may not includes Summon.

The first common tab position for this is 1st.

2.  Catalogue

Again self explanatory. Usually this means a classic catalogue of some sort , though occasionally it could be a next generation catalogue which may or may not have article search capability. For example some libraries seem to be using Primo for this.

There are 56 of them. As there are as many catalogue as Summon tabs, it implies libraries are either still not confident enough to remove them, and/or think catalogues have functionality Summon cannot replace easily, possibly known item searching.

The first common tab position for this is 2nd.

The next few tabs are even more specific tabs designed for known item searching by content types.

3. Journal

This usually means searches that search for Journal titles , unlike #1 or #2 , this classification is function based .  Which means a library could be using anyone of the following to find journal article and still count as a journal tab

a) Summon scoped search for journal content type
b) Classic catalogue scoped search for journal titles
c) A-Z listing of journal/ ejournal portals.

For purposes of this analysis, I combined "ejournal" and "journal" tabs, as some were using searches that could only pick up ejournal titles.

This is the next most popular tab with about 38 libraries using it (63% of libraries).

The first common tab position for this is 3rd. Usually next to Summon and catalogue.

4. Database

Similar to Journals this is function based. Used for searching Database titles. In use by 32 libraries (53% of libraries)

The most common tab position for this is 3rd, though 4th is almost as popular. Generally this tab is used as a substitute for Journals or if Journals tab exist it is the 4th.

5. Articles

This is generally used for topic/subject article searches. Also function based, this tab could be a scoped Summon search, a federated search, some other discovery product/next general catalogue with article search other than Summon etc. I expected some libraries to have known article search boxes, eg "Citation linkers" or "Article finders" but in general this is not common, though some had hyperlinks to them.

In use by 17 libraries (28% of libraries). The most common tab position for this is 2nd. Usually this if it is used is used with libraries with a relatively small number of tabs (3-4).

6. Website 

This tab did site searches for the library website. On the assumption that users might be looking for policies, instructions and not just content. This site search might also include LibGuides, LibAnswers etc as we will see.

In use by 16 libraries (26% of libraries), common labels are "Site Search", "Website" etc.

In many ways, this tab tends to have the simplest designs, just a search field and a button. The one below from University of Mami is perhaps representative.

The most "complicated" design for this tab tends to have a single link out either to a help link (Tcu library) or in the case of BGSU a A-Z Index

                                                             BGSU Library

The following is probably the most complicated design in my sample

The dominance of Google for site search was clear, I found at least 7 sites maybe more using Google for this. Three libraries including University Of Texas  even brand their search box as Google as seen below.

Regardless of whether libraries branded their box with Google, many were using Google, but there were different ways to do this. You can do anything from using

3) Just a plain Google search with site:yourwebsite syntax set to search only within your domain.

The third technique is used by Kyushu University Library.  This is what users see when they search.

While this is by far the easiest way to implement a site search using Google directly, the results are jarring as users are immediately brought out of the library page. 

Also notice that the initial search automatically does site:xxxxx to restrict the search to the library domain. But what happens when the user tries to refine his search? He might just remove that syntax and the search goes to a unrestricted normal google search.

TCU library  is a interesting case where they try to search 3 sub.domains including their libguides and blogs. 

On the page at the bottom (not in picture above) it says "powered by Google Search Appliance".  This is a better search, since the library's branding is retained but it still retains the weakness of Kyushu University Library's search in that if the user tries to refine the search the search syntax is lost. 

I find this mildly curious, since I would think Google Search Appliance could easily handle this issue.

In any case Google Custom Search Engine can definitely handle this issue (you can include as many domains and subdomains as you wish up to a fairly high number) .

In my opinion this is probably a near ideal example of use of Google for site search (also see University of Miami). You retain your branding (this library seems to be using Google Custom Search engine but doesn't seem to customize the logo), and users can refine searches and still retain the correct search. I suspect most users wouldn't even realize they are using Google for this search.

No matter what option is used, I think it is important to consider whether Google will be displaying advertisements

Of course. you don't have to use Google solutions, examples of libraries using other solutions with interesting results includes NCSU Libraries , Penn State Libraries

7. Course reserves

It's unclear why there are specific tabs for course reserves. Perhaps such material is at some other system that isn't easily searchable by standard catalogue, Summon systems or perhaps due to their importance?

In any case they are in use by 14 libraries (23% of libraries) , descriptions of this tab are quite consistent, either "course reserves" or "reserves"

Typically you can check items on reserve by instructor or by course code and in some cases you can search for past year exam papers or maybe even ereserves if the label used is course resources.

Below shows a typical example from Ontario Western Libraries.

There are also some who prefer pull-down menu style

and yet others prefer multiple search bars.

8. Research Guides

Due to dominance of Libguides, this was usually a search of libguides or other path-finders, course guides, subject guides etc.

In use by 13 libraries (21% of libraries), most common label is "research guides", though "library guides" is used too. University of South Australia has a interesting one "topic launch".

Interestingly enough of the 13 libraries, only 4 of the libraries provided the ability to search by keyword. These include Temple University Library, ASU Libraries, University of South Australia, Lebanon Valley college . The rest provided only browse options but not search, typically with a pull-down menu by resources, occasionally with text links off site.

Example, East Michigan University Library

Since most of the libraries including the one above were using LibGuides , it would be trivial to offer a search, but I speculate a browse only option was deliberate, because with a search the likelihood of the user typing in some keyword on some obscure topic and ending up with zero hits would be high.

One could offer both search and browse options of course.

9. Digital collections

This usually means Institutional Repositories or sometimes some special local digital collection. In use by 8 libraries. (13% of libraries). Common labels include "Digital Collection", "Research Archive" or even the brand name of the Institutional Repositories.

The search usually uses the institutional repositories build-in search but can use Summon (special customization using facets for content type eg here  or keyword searches using the database code DBID:XXXX in Summon (Try this with the archive tab).

Also I notice ANU Summon search seems to have a facet for their institutional repository under the library location facet, probably the best way to do this if you want to use Summon.

Typical example : University of South Australia.

10. Google Scholar

6 libraries (10% of libraries) actually have a search tab devoted to Google Scholar. One of them even offers a search tab with radio buttons for Google, Google Scholar and Google books.  Remember this is for libraries that actually have a viable alternative in Summon, so who says all libraries hate Google? :)

Typical example:  BGSU Library

11. Misc

Not everything falls nicely into my categories. One category that almost made the cut but

didn't was tabs labelled "Videos", (another one here) , Music & Video ,DVD & Video , CDs/DVDs .

The existence of such tabs suggest either a) Such searches are popular or more likely b) Summon isn't particularly good at filtering down to such items using facets?

The "typical library"

There is no such thing as a "Typical library", but might be worth looking at what libraries were including based on the total number of tabs each was using.

Three was the minimum number of tabs used, probably because if there were just 2, you might as well keep a single search box and link to the third option. There weren't many libraries with just 3 tabs to generalize, but in general besides the two standard Summon + catalogue the third tended to be "website".

Looking at my sample, the most common number of tabs was four. What tabs were these libraries using?

Looking at that sample, most had Summon as the first tab, followed by the catalogue. The third tab was a toss up between "Databases", "Journals" and to some degree "Articles". For the last tab, "Website" seems popular, but any of the remaining top 5 was also found there.

Below shows libraries with 5 tabs only (the next most common number).

With libraries using 5 tabs only, the picture doesn't change much, except "Research Guides" tab starts to appear, though they generally do not appear with "Website" tabs, possibly because "Website" tab can cover libguides in the search?

Above shows libraries with 6 tabs. With 6 tabs to play with, less usual tabs start to appear, but the most obvious pattern is the emergence of "Course Reserves". 

For sake of completeness, libraries with 7 tabs.


There are varying ways libraries can setup search tabs , so I hope this was at least mildly interesting to you. I did this survey a few months back, so by now some of the libraries have changed their designs, still, I hope in general this was helpful.

BTW If you want to keep up with articles, blog posts, videos etc on web scale discovery, do consider subscribing to my custom magazine curated by me on Flipboard.

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