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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