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.

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