The library has recently chosen to implement the Summon web-scale discovery service. In this first blog I’ll talk about what Summon is and a bit of the history behind its creation.

One of the problems libraries have been trying to solve for some time is how to make it easier for their users to find information. A university library will usually subscribe to a large number of web based resources including  reference databases, abstract and indexing resources, journal bundles and individual e-journals and ebooks. This provides library members with an enormous wealth of information but the sheer number of resources can make the task of finding information incredibly confusing. Where do they start looking?

The first technology created to try and solve this problem was federated (or broadcast) search. A federated search builds connectors to each individual database the library subscribes to and will simultaneously search every database and return results. In theory this sounded great, exactly what we needed. Unfortunately the reality of federated search products did not live up to expectations. Problems with federated searching are well documented. These include slow response times from databases; lack of relevancy of results; clunky interfaces; results are not interfiled, so to view results from all databases search you need to scroll through several pages; the need for constant maintenance to fix broken connectors- I could go on.

In 2009 Serials Solutions decided to try a different approach to this problem and started work on Summon. Instead of using broadcast search to send your search to multiple different databases then try to make sense of the results returned, they decided to pre-index as much information as they could and build one huge central index containing fully indexed articles, abstracts, ebooks etc. This approach has a number of advantages. Searching is much faster. It allows for much better relevance ranking. Summon knows what subscriptions your library has so it can return only results which will result in the full text.

Does Summon deliver on this promise? It certainly has some enthusiastic supporters. We will soon be able to put it to the test.