It’s been a long while since we’ve updated this blog, and we have made significant progress in implementing Summon. We even have a name for the service, CityLibrary Search, which trips off the tongue nicely! There is a big milestone looming for us at the moment, the go-live date, which is (currently) the end of August, when we will make Summon the primary search tool via the Library’s home page. More on this when it happens.

In the meantime, I thought I would write about one of the thorniest problems we have been trying to deal with. This is the issue of “known database searching” using Summon. The idea here is that it is sometimes (often?) the case that users are uninterested in performing a full pre-indexed federated search, and instead just wish to get to a specific database. For example law students are likely to want quick access to one or both of the two big legal information databases, Westlaw and Lexis Library. This is borne out by user behaviour: we see a large number of searches for known databases in our current library catalogue, Encore.

Therefore it is important that any discovery service (or indeed library catalogue) can provide quick access to any given named database. Encore does a pretty good job at doing this- see for example this search for Westlaw, where said database comes up top of the list of hits, with a prominent link through to the database itself. Summon is, I would argue, less good on this score. A search for Westlaw comes up with lots of hits. At the top of the list is a “Recommendation”, which is a link through to Westlaw, but in my view the link is not particularly prominent, and it is also not very clear that the link will take you to that database. The rest of the regular Summon hits are, essentially, noise- a variety of articles that happen to mention Westlaw in some context or another, but which certainly won’t provide an authenticated link through to the database itself. Summon does have a “Database Recommender” function, but this seems to be erratic in its operation, for example throwing up irrelevant recommendations.

So, what is to be done? Our current thinking is that we will upload our Millennium LMS Electronic Records Management (ERM) records (a tautology I know!) to Summon, and class these as databases which are “our own” content, which will hopefully push the database records up the hits list. You can see an example of the ERM record for Westlaw in Summon here– the problem is that currently you have to specify the facet “Database” to be able to retrieve the relevant hit, something that few if any users are likely to do. Using ERM records will also allow us to specify alternative names for databases- to use the Westlaw example again, Westlaw does much better when searched for in Summon using its “real” name, Westlaw UK (see hit number two).

Another possible approach (perhaps to be done in tandem with the ERM records approach above) will be that taken by the Queensland University of Technology’s Summon implementation. They have uploaded their Libguides A-Z list as structured XML into Summon’s index as local holdings. This appears to do a good job of creating database links, though they seem to be categorised as “Web resources”, not as databases proper. You can view a presentation on this approach here (requires a Google Drive log-in).

So, the short version: it’s complicated, but pretty vital to get right. We don’t want to try to direct users to Libguides whenever they need access to a database because (as user behaviour stats show) they legitimately expect to be able to access databases via Summon itself. I’ll follow this post up if and when we have found a satisfactory solution.