[ Editor’s Note: This is a guest article by David Jenkins. ]
David Jenkins has worked in libraries since 2005. He has experience in the public and academic library sectors, starting as a Library and Information Assistant with Sheffield City Council and moving on to become an Assistant Librarian with the Electronic Service Development Team (ESDT) at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in 2009. He holds an MA Librarianship from the University of Sheffield, graduating in 2009. This course sparked an interest in the relationship between libraries and technology that has informed his practice since. David is Web Liaison for the CILIP North West Branch committee.
Implementing Search it! at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU)
Note – Search it! is only accessible to current MMU students and staff. This
is due to licensing restrictions imposed by the publishers, whose content is
accessible via Search It! For further insight into using Search it! please see
our helpsheet, FAQ and video.
For the 2010/2011 academic year, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) Library has launched Search it!, a federated search solution for its students and staff. This piece will define Search it!, describe they way it has been implemented and examine why it has been implemented in this way. I hope that this will give you an insight into one academic library’s perspective on implementing a federated search product.
MMU Library had long identified the need for a federated search tool. Academic
research and staff experience with users showed that students were often using
Google and Google Scholar to find texts for their research rather than using
the Library’s electronic resources. Whilst we would never deny that Google and
Google Scholar are extremely useful, we are also passionate in our belief that the
academic databases we subscribe to offer excellent content and functionality and
will help users get better grades. Additionally, higher use of our electronic resources ensures that we get better value for money from them. We wanted increase use of Library’s electronic resources by simplifying the way that users access them and by increasing awareness of the range of electronic resources available. A federated search tool was seen as the best way to do this.
We chose to use Metalib for a number of reasons. Metalib is available as a hosted
service, that is, customers can pay a fee to Ex Libris to host the service on their
servers and take care of much of its maintenance. MMU Library’s Electronic Service
Development Team (ESDT) was charged with leading this project and maintaining and promoting the service from within MMU once it had launched. However,
ESDT are a very small team who do not have specialist technical knowledge of
maintaining such systems, therefore the availability of Metalib as a hosted service
was very attractive. Users of Metalib as a hosted service can still customise the look
and feel of the service, if they wish. This is important to us as it ensures that the
product fits in with our branding, helping give the user a consistent, recognisable
and familiar experience. MMU already used Ex Libris’s open-URL resolver, SFX. SFX can work in conjunction with Metalib, allowing users to discover resources and link straight through to their full text, if the institution has access. This ease of integration with a product that we already used successfully was another big plus. Although Metalib was not widely used in the UK at the time, it was well used worldwide and we were aware of Ex Libris’s good reputation, which gave us confidence in their product.
A working party was established for this project. It was led by ESDT’s Library Service Manager (who has since moved on) and consists of library staff from each of MMU’s 6 site libraries. These staff worked with ESDT to implement Search it! The working party had input into:
- naming of the service
- naming the service’s different features
- layout and navigation
- naming and content of resource categories, sub-categories and QuickSets (groups of databases arranged by subject for quick searching from the start page)
Having a working party has had many benefits. The site library staff have a wealth
of expert knowledge on their subject areas, the electronic resources used to study
these areas and the academic staff and students who carry out research into
the subjects. As a result, they are the best people to decide how to arrange the
electronic databases that MMU subscribes to into the categories, sub-categories
and QuickSets Search it! uses. Their front line experience working with students
and academics also gives them a particular insight into what users require in terms
of usability. It has also increased familiarity with the service, which is important as
many library staff were unfamiliar with federated search before this project. It is
hoped that giving staff this level of input into the project has also helped foster a
sense of ownership with Search it!, ensuring that they think of it as ‘their’ service and will value it, promote it and continue to have input into it.
Our initial schedule for implementing Search It! was put back considerably due to
technical difficulties. Because we purchased Metalib as a hosted service, we were
required to open an additional port in our firewall, a local procedure that took longer than expected. Also, we still use an old dial-up connection to test our electronic resources from outside of the MMU network. This lets us mimic the experiences that our off-campus users have, which is very useful in diagnosing their access problems. However, the dial-up connection appears to be too slow for Search it! and often times out without allowing us access to the service. This hampered our off-campus testing of Search it! Getting Search it! to work with Shibboleth proved very time consuming. Shibboleth is a globally popular piece of authentication software used by the UK Access Management Federation, of which we are a member. Shibboleth allows our students to access Search it! from off-campus , which is convenient for our regular students and necessary for our overseas students. It also allows for a degree of granularity regarding users, which is useful as publisher’s license agreements restrict what electronic resources certain groups of students can access.
MMU has a local solution which allows us to distinguish between different groups of
students and staff who have different levels of access to the databases searchable in Search it! and only make the appropriate resources visible to them. Previously, we would have had to make a service like Search it! completely unavailable to groups of students who were not allowed access to all databases because we could not allow different levels of access- it was all or nothing. Shibboleth also allows users a single sign-on experience with many databases. That is, users can log into Search it!, perform a search, find an article they require and link through to the full text of the article hosted by the publishing database without having to log into that database as well.
During the pilot period, we ran numerous training sessions for library staff,
which introduced them to Search It! and gave them hands on experience of
using the service. This training was cascaded by attendees to their colleagues.
Local teams at the site libraries have been organising their own basic Search it!
training sessions and the Research Support Librarian, who is part of ESDT, has
planned a series of courses for advanced users. Additionally a helpsheet, an FAQ and a video tutorial were placed on the Library Web site. Search it! has also been promoted to potential users by Subject Librarians at faculty meetings and an introduction to the service is due to be published in the autumn edition of the Library’s newsletter.
We want to make Search it! as easily accessible to our users as possible. It is
available via the Library Web site homepage and there is also a Search it! link
on each one of the Web site’s Electronic subject resources pages. Each of these pages focuses on a particular subject and offer details on and access to databases and other resources relevant to that subject. The Search it! links on these pages are
deep links that take users straight to the advanced search feature in the relevant
subject category in Search it! There will be a link to the service from MyMMU, which
is the student portal that has been designed to give students a single point of access to useful resources.
Evaluation of Search it! is ongoing. During the pilot, ESDT advertised that it was
looking for feedback to help improve the service on the Library homepage. However, despite Search it! being well used in this period, we received little feedback. Having acted on the recommendations we received as appropriate, we hope that users will continue to communicate with our colleagues and ourselves in order that we can further develop Search it! to meet their needs.