Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Bento style search in LibGuides v2

LibGuides V2 Search Display

Like many libraries right now, my institution is working towards upgrading to SpringShare LibGuides V2.

Update 15/1/2014 just went live!

Like many libraries, we took the opportunity to revamp many aspects of Libguides v2. One of the areas, we spent the most effort on was the front page.

What follows is a joint post by my colleague  Feng Yikang and myself

Designing the LibGuides home page

One of the main questions that vexed us was, what should the LibGuides homepage do? What purpose should it serve that distinguished it from the library home page?

Most academic libraries use the LibGuides home as a landing page to list all their libraries' subject guides and topic guides. That is certainly one option.

We went the other way and designed it as an alternative home for research oriented users. 

Like many academic libraries, our library homepage was designed before the current slew of expertise based services likeScholar communication/ Open Access support, GIS services etc was common place and there was little "real estate" to link to such services on the main library homepage.

Also arguably, it was difficult to justify adding a link to a niche service like Scholarly Communication from the library home page because the vast majority of users (undergraduates and graduate students) would never need to use it on the main library home.

Our LibGuides homepage could be the logical place to add such links.

Also we noticed from the chat queries received on the LibGuides homepage, the questions we received were a mixture of the following

a) Users want to figure out how to place a hold and how to locate the book they wanted. as well as problems with passwords - (The "Find Book" and "Password" boxes handle this)

b) Graduate students and above trying to figure out what library support services were available. Often it was a case of a new experienced graduate student or faculty trying to see if the specialised support service they enjoyed in their prior institution was available here. (The "Research support" box handles this)

c) Users looking for specialised librarians in their area to support them. (The pull down menus on the right support this).

As such we designed the LibGuides homepage to encourage browsing of such services.

The drop down menus on the right, help users quickly locate the appropriate subject librarians, while the other categories are carefully curated based on a combination of usage, chat queries asked and just plain old institution. 

The design is of course currently tentative, and will evolve with time. 

What about search? Bento style ?

Of course browsing is all very well, but we know a lot of people will just search. Handling LibGuides search is probably an issue that has always causes me some amount of headache.

In LibGuides v1, you could customize your search. So you could add a keyword search to any of the following

1) Libguides search
2) Libanswers (FAQ) search
3) Classic catalogue search
4) Web Scale discovery search - eg Summon

or pretty much any search you wanted as long as you could craft the right url.

Below is how it looked in our Libguides v1 search. I had hooked it up to multiple options including search our web scale discovery search (dubbed "FindMore@NUSL") as well as a Google site search of our web pages ("All Library Pages"). There were the normal options of searching within all guides as well.

The problem was which default search was the right one?

Like most libraries, I initially set the default to search "All Guides".  It was a search in Libguides, so you expected Libguides results right? What else could be simpler?

The problem is I did an analysis of the keywords that people did in LibGuides v1, a few years ago and though I don't have the analysis now, I remember roughly 90% of searches resulted in no hits.

Why? Because users were searching very specific searches like singapore chinese temple architecture.

Most of such searches had zero results. 

As a sidenote, the same keyword search in LibGuides v2, does yield results, it seems likely in LibGuides v2, there isn't strict AND boolean going on. I am not sure if this is a good idea, since the user may not be aware this is happening and be disappointed at totally irrelevant guides appearing.

Such searches would be yield reasonable hits if you did them in a Web Scale discovery system like Summon, but not in a LibGuides search.

The other issue I found with using the default LibGuides search was that people were found searching for specific book titles using title, isbn, issn etc eg. "1984", journal titles "Nature", or databases "Scopus" in the Libguides search. In other words they were treating the Libguides search like a catalogue search.

For the more obscure databases or journal titles and most certainly books that were not listed in LibGuides this often led to no results. 

Even if the guide happened to list the item the person was looking for say a database was listed in the guide, you still ran into a problem. 

Below shows a search for "Realis" (a local real estate database). 

It isn't very obvious that the subpage - Databases in the Real Estate Guide has a link to Realis.

Many users might even click on the topmost "Real estate" link and hunt for the Realis link on the home of the real estate guide, not realising it is in the databases page.

All these searches were very common in my logs, and explains why a default LibGuides only search was not always the best.

So what was the solution? 

The idea we had which seems obvious in hindsight was suggested by my colleague Yikang. I was telling him how many research intensive Universities like Duke, Colombia, Princetion are currently spotting bento style search results

Such bento style search results would display multiple boxes of different types of content. By entering keywords, users will be presented with a holistic spread of results including resources, services, library guides, FAQs or more. 

So one could display results not only from the LibGuides but also from Libanswers, Catalogue, article index of discovery services and more, fitting every need.

Yikang realised that LibGuides v2 allows one to customize the search result template and this made it possible to pull in bento style results.

Below show some results, when someone searches for "Systematic Review".

In our current simple implementation of Bento, we have the simple "Our Guides" box and  "FAQs" box,

In addition, we have three more boxes - "Our Suggestions" , "Library Catalogue" and "Articles" which comes directly from our Summon API. 

They are drawing respectively from Summon best bets, Search filtered to "Library catalog" and filtered to article-like content types.

How do they work together?

The leftmost and most prominent box feeds you with LibGuides as expected. This can display LibGuides that are not just disciplines or subject specific but can also cover services like EndNote, Bibliometrics, GIS etc.

Below shows someone searching for bibliometrics and a relevant guide surfaces plus other relevant material.

But what if the keyword does not allow any good LibGuides matches? Hence the existence of other boxes.

The "Library Catalogue" box helps resolves searches where people are searching for specific book titles, database titles and most known items etc. Below we see an example of searching by database (Business Source Premier) and searching by isbn.

Below shows a search by ISBN

The "Articles" box, would at least show some results if the user searches for something highly specific not covered by any guide, pulling in at least a few relevant articles or books.

"Our Recommendations" could be customized based on what users are searching. It could be used to cover cases not covered by the other boxes. 

"FAQ box" comes from Libanswers, and it helps resolve common policy and procedural questions.

Broad Implementation

For those interested in the details of setting, here is the report from my collegue Yikang. 

For this setup to work, I needed a proxy page, which will act as "middle-man" between our LibGuides page and the Summon server. 

Once a search query is entered into the LibGuides search page (A), a javascript sitting in the LibGuides search page will pass the query to this proxy server page (B), which will in turn parse the query to Summon server (C). 

The Summon server will then return the results in JSON format to the proxy server page (D), which will pass the results to the LibGuides search page (E) to be interpreted and displayed (F). 

The really difficult part was setting up the proxy server page as coding the proxy server page from scratch would be time-consuming, because it was foreign territory to me. Fortunately Virginia Tech University Library shared some sample php files at which I could refer to. I used the files, together with some HTTP_Request php files downloaded from PEAR

They worked! The potentially time-consuming part of the job was done.

Next, I had to do some Javascript programming to design the Bento search layout results. Aside from
the layout, the Javascript interprets the various search API results for each compartment (LibGuides,
Summon, LibFAQ) and incorporates it into the search results page, in a presentable form. Javascript
was used to add the "see more" buttons. Each "see more" button opens a popup window showing
the full results of each respective result type compartment."


Our bento style search result page is in the scheme of things not exactly a new idea. Though it's the first example I know of that links the search from a LibGuides search as opposed to from the main library homepage.

By pilot testing the search display on LibGuides search only, we can carry out a small scale experiment, rather than rolling it out to all users on the main Library portal search bar.

Arguably, the bento style search for LibGuides is a much safer bet, because the use cases are more constrained.

Consider 3 Alternatives for the display of search results from LibGuides

1) Pointing to Libguides only results
2) Pointing to Web Scale discovery blended search ie Summon default search
3) Pointing to Bento style with boxes for Libguides and Discovery results.

If the user is searching in LibGuides and is really looking for a suitable LibGuide say the Economics or EndNote guide, chances are there are only a few relevant hits anyway in the LibGuides, so for such users, a box with 10 top hits for guides should be more than enough. Both Alternative 1 and 3 will be successful as they show ranked list of Libguides, while alternative 2 will fail.

Alternative 2, which is pointing solely to Summon may succeeded since LibGuides are indexed in Summon, but the blended style list and uncertain relevancy ranking means the user have to plough through many results to find the guide he needs.

For other use cases, whose searches are best satisfied by non-guides results, the bento style boxes (alternative 3) provide a far better option than a straight out LibGuides search (alternative 1) which would have no results.

Also as blended lists in Summon can have problem with known item searches , we handle this case by creating two separate boxes of content, "Library Catalogue" and "Articles" (though both are drawn via Summon api using different filters)

So what do you think?  Is this a general improvement from the default search?

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