Archives for posts with tag: Google Generation

Neil’s previous post mentioned the idea of trying to provide a ‘Google-style search’ for accessing library resources, something which has been talked about a lot over the last few years. What often isn’t discussed, or not in detail, is what we actually mean by this. Does ‘being like Google’ just mean having a single search box instead making the user choose which type of search they want to perform: Title, Author, ISBN, Subject etc? Or is there more to it?

Aaron Tay’s excellent blog post How is Google different from traditional library OPACs and databases? discusses some of the key issues.

Some of the things that Google does but (most) library catalogues don’t do are:

Auto stemming – that is, a search for ‘run’ will include results for ‘running’ and ‘car’ will also find ‘cars’

Auto correcting – if you search Google for ‘librar opacs’ it will change your search to ‘library opacs’

google search

Soft ‘and’ – occasionally Google might drop one or more of your search terms

Auto complete – it suggests search terms as you are typing

We may not always like the way Google sometimes interprets and alters our searches but it is what most of us are now used to. It can be quite baffling to someone who grew up with Google when their search in the library catalogue for “charles handy new alchemist” does not find the book “The New Alchemists” by Charles Handy.

So how much of this Google-like searching does Summon do? My initial tests indicate it can do some of these things but it doesn’t go nearly as far as Google.

Summon does not auto correct my search terms though it does suggest alternative searches to try. However it only suggests alternative searches if my search finds zero results. My search for ‘Milly Moll Mandy’ sadly neither autocorrected nor offered the alternative search ‘Milly Molly Mandy’, because it found one result that matched my mistake.

It has a good auto complete function – start typing and lots of suggestions are offered.

Summon has at least some stemming ability- my search for ‘charles handy organisation’ happily found alternates ‘organisations’ and ‘organization(s)’.

As far as I can tell it does not attempt a ‘soft AND’ and drop any of my search terms.


Thus far we’ve tried to explain the general idea behind modern resource discovery products like Summon, as well as why we chose Summon here at City. But what benefits does Summon bring to library users, above and beyond the various ways of finding information already available?

The answer to the question above lies in my use of the phrase “various ways of finding information” above. The problem for library users is that, up until recently, there was no way of searching across everything the library provides access to. “Everything the library provides” in this context can include (but is not limited to):

  • The contents of the library catalogue (hard copy books of course, but also potentially all sorts of other media e.g. musical scores, theses, DVDs, LPs, CDs etc. etc.) 
  • Journal articles
  • E-books
  • Abstracting & Indexing databases (e.g. Scopus, Web of Science)
  • The contents of the institutional repository
  • Archives catalogues
  • Databases of newspaper articles

Summon tries to solve this problem by building a single index of the library’s holding, and then crucially allowing library users to search across that index in a single place. So, instead of having to first go to the library catalogue to find books, e-books and e-journals at the title level then (say) Scopus to find individual articles, then (say) to the Archives Catalogue to find relevant archival material, users can run a single search that will find relevant material from all these sources of information.

Furthermore, Summon is set up to provide good results from the prevalent “Google search style”. The idea here is that (for better or worse) users are used to searching Google by plugging in a few key words then hitting go and seeing what comes up, then modifying the search to refine the results. This is certainly the way I search when I use web search engines, at any rate, and studies have shown that this is how the so-called Google Generation goes about things too! Summon’s relevance ranking and the ability to “facet” your search results are crucial here, and we will write more on this at a later date once we’ve had a chance to analyse it further.

So there are in our view two main advantages to Summon:

  1. Search in one place for everything; get useful results back.
  2. Use simple keyword searches as you are used to doing with web search engines; get useful results back.

Of course, in reality it’s arguably not as unproblematic as we have perhaps made things seem. In particular, when we say “search everything”, does Summon really allow us to search “everything”? Or is it actually some sub-set of “everything”? And is simple keyword searching actually the best way of finding scholarly material? And given the simplicity of searching for material using Summon, what then for users’ information literacy? These are all questions that bear further examination, and we will look at them (as well as some other perceived weaknesses with web-scale discovery) in later posts.