New tools concept
Earlier in the week we soft-launched a new section on our library website. The New Tools section is a space where we can put out new ideas with the aim of trying to get some feedback about whether users will find them useful. This parallels the work we’re also doing with a group of students from our Student Panel to work with them to design some new features (blogged about earlier in the week).
Our idea is that we’d use the New Tools section to put up beta tools based on ideas that have come up through a number of ways. So the ideas that come through the personalisation study work with students will go through a private ‘alpha’ stage where they help with defining the ideas and feeding back on paper prototypes and ‘proof-of-concept’ tools. Once the tools have been refined the best ones get released as ‘beta’ versions through the New Tools section. We’d also look at releasing as beta tools some of the ideas that come from other work we’ve done in the past such as in the RISE recommender project and other ideas we’ve come up with.
The idea with the New tools section is that the tools aren’t fully supported but are there for people to try and let us know what they think about them. If they work then we can refine them and take them into service. If they aren’t useful then we’ll have a better idea of what people want and what they don’t.
First new tools – single search box
The first two tools that we’ve made available in beta are both around library resources. The first one is a single search box (I”ve written before about the library quest for the google-like search box – and I’m starting to get more interested in the Google-like search box actually being Google and that libraries might be better concentrating on helping users in Google find library resources that they are entitled to access – but Google’s decision to ‘retire’ Google Reader certainly gives me pause in relying too much on something from Google). Behind the search box is a search that passes your search string to our version of EBSCO Discovery (using their API) and also to the library resources database that powers the resource lists that are fed into the library website. The idea behind this is that it will bring together results from our various systems into one place and particularly that it will be better at finding Journal titles that are direct matches.
This single search box is designed to also test the feasibility of bringing together different search results into a single interface. It’s a bit federated-search-like in that the results are presented in separate boxes (sort of like a stacked bento-box approach inspired by Stanford and others – it’s interesting also to see the approach that Princeton have taken with their beta version of their library website). We also haven’t strayed too much into the area of adding some of the surrounding functionality (saving citations, sharing etc features) that a fully-fledged system would need. This is just about testing whether pulling together these results is a workable and useful thing to do.
First new tools – My recent resources
The second tool is about trying to see if giving users access to a list of library resources they have recently accessed is useful to them. If you’re not an OU user (or aren’t signed-in) you’ll just see a demonstration list of resources. But if you are signed-in you should see a list of the resources you’ve used, with the most recent ones first. These resources will include ones you’ve looked at directly from the library website, or ones articles that you’ve viewed through our One Stop search discovery system. For this prototype we have offered RSS and RIS formats to export your records so you can put them into your favourite reference management tool. We’ve also included a box on the right to list your most used resources, with the number of times in brackets.
The format and description of the entries just picks up the standard format we already use on the library website and we’ve started to add in book covers for ebooks (although that gets me thinking that I’ve never really worked out what the point is of a book cover for an ebook anyway – Kindles seem to take you to the start of the book, not to the cover, so maybe ebook covers aren’t that relevant anymore – but in any case it breaks up the blocks of text neatly).
The plan is to develop more prototypes and build up a pool of tools in this space that we can get people to look at and comment on. Hopefully it will be useful to people,