JISC, the UK-based education and research organization, commissioned a report from OCLC to bring together findings from different studies on how the way people look for information in libraries and online is changing. The commissioned study synthesizes the results of twelve studies. There is also a podcast What does the digital information seeker look like? at the JISC web-site that summarizes the findings.
What did the study find that would be of interest to the federated search community? Here are my thoughts:
- “… there is an identifiable need for training, support and improved systems to help people find the information they need.” As we dream up more bells and whistles we need to consider whether users can effectively use the features we give them today. If they can’t then it’s the vendor’s responsibility to simplify the interface, easing the training burden of the library staff. After all, how many people take training classes in using Google? But, then again, how many people use Google’s advanced search?
- “E-journals are increasingly important to the research process and the majority of professional researchers have embraced digital content”. Make sure you provide access to the journals your patrons need. Discovery services may provide access to some of them. Federated search can provide access to others.
- “Immediate access to information from their own desktop computer is almost taken for granted and gaining access to the full-text journal article is seen as more of an issue than discovering the information sources.” This speaks to the importance of good link resolvers. It’s no surprise that users are not satisfied with an abstract and no way to get the full text of the article.
- “There is evidence that once digital resources have been found, they are then used to ?power browse? for information. Power browsing is when a student or researcher selects just a few pages from an e-book or an e-journal to pick out the relevant information.” If students tend to skim the surface of lots of content then having federated search or discovery tools with lots of sources would meet their needs.
- “Information seekers want access to more digital content of all kinds and formats.” No surprise here. Even though we may only skim the surface we seem to have an insatiable appetite to have a huge “surface” to skim. More source, more diverse sources, more multimedia search results. More more more.
- “Library catalogues need to include more direct links to resources and more online content.” This point is made repeatedly in the report so I’ll repeat it as well. Just abstracts doesn’t cut it.
- “Library systems must be prepared for changing user behaviours, which include advanced search options, demands for immediate access and quick perusal of resources.” I’m glad not all users want only Google-like searches. User needs change. Having advanced search features but having them not get in the way of users who don’t want them seems to be a good balance.
- “Library systems need to look and function more like search engines (eg Google) and popular web services (eg Amazon.com), as these are familiar to users who are comfortable and confident in using them.” Don’t reinvent the wheel, especially a hard to use wheel. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it’s what the users know already.
- “Students need more guidance and clarity on how to find content and how to assess its worth as well as its relevance.” It’s more important than ever for library staff to be intimate with the characteristics of sources searched. This is an important way to add value to the search experience.
Tags: federated search