“How to compete with Google: Simple Resource Discovery Systems for Libraries”
Report on the JIBS User Group Workshop, 13 November 2008
The idea for this workshop was sparked by a recent discussion on the 'lis-infoliteracy' list: Is
information literacy training essential for students to get the best out of their library resources or
should we just be making our resource discovery systems easier to use?
“Compared with academic studies, opinion and anecdotal evidence would have you believe that
Internet is the answer to everything - the first port of call for information, communicating with
and making friends. Multi- tasking in an electronic environment disguises poor information-
seeking skills”. (Martin Wolf, University of Liverpool Lis-infoliteracy email discussion list 2/1/
The morning was given to papers and the afternoon to demonstrations of ‘one stop shop’
software that showed how HE libraries were competing with Google. The day began with
presentations by Maggie Fieldhouse, Lecturer at University College London and Mark
Hepworth, Senior Lecturer at the University of Loughborough. Maggie Fieldhouse summarised
the findings of the CIBER Report which was commissioned by the British Library and JISC
early this year (Information behaviour of the researcher of the future: a CIBER briefing paper
(http://www.ucl.ac.uk/slais/research/ciber/downloads/) and both the research presented in the
CIBER report and Hepworth’s paper concluded that despite all that the internet offered, there
was a dire need for information skills training in HE – for both students and academics. The
following is a summary of the papers presented by Fieldhouse and Hepworth.
The two quotes from the CIBER report indicate the findings of the report:
“ We know that younger scholars especially have only a very limited knowledge of the many
Library sponsored services that are on offer to them. The problem is one of both raising
awareness of this expensive and valuable content and making the interfaces much more standard
and easier to use”.
“This discussion points to an interesting dilemma, certainly for H.E. librarians, that strikes at
the heart of our dual roles as service providers and, increasingly, educators. As service
providers we want our electronic services to be as simple to use as possible, minimising the
barriers between users and information. As educators, we want students (and academics!) to be
able to distinguish critically between different types of information”. (CIBER Report Executive
Summary, p. 30)
The Cyber report suggests that the information seeking behaviour of library users, including that
of researchers and academics has been conditioned by emails and executive summaries, i.e.,
digested ‘bytes’ of information. Most users view content online for less than two minutes. They
all want quick wins or print out longer articles that are never get read. “Power browsing, i.e.
devouring titles, contents, pages, abstracts, horizontal scanning, flicking/channel hopping are the
norm” (CIBER, p. 31). Massive choice of content encourages this bouncing behaviour. Users
are generally spending longer finding content than reading it. This type of information seeking
behaviour has resulted in a trivialisation of information and a false sense of confidence and often
results in little deep understanding or learning taking place.
What are the implications of this trivialisation of information – especially in the self-directed
learning landscape? Could all this be true: Users have a false sense of confidence, a lack of
cognitive or metal understanding of the structure of the web, a lack of understanding of how
search engines work and an inability to select identify search terms or keywords? Users tend to
use of natural language or a random conversational style language which results in an inaccurate
list of hits that may not be relevant or useful. And yet there is a blinding trust in what is found
on Google. This is how most users come to us when they begin their higher education studies.
Many have developed these coping skills – getting by as they have not been taught information
literacy skills on how to develop the search capabilities appropriate to the demands of HE and
research. They are further in the habit of cutting and pasting and have little notion of the
copyright implications of what they are doing.
Fieldhouse questioned whether we are heading for a world of ‘eminent’ researchers who rely on
information from ‘Wikipedia’ or contacts on ‘Facebook’ or ‘LinkedIn’ rather than ‘Science
Direct’ and who write blogs rather than essays. There is little planned research as ‘quick
answers to difficult questions’ is the underlying strategy used by most students. Many students
do not know or understand the importance of evaluating the information resources they come
across. They do not know if the information is from a serious refereed work or may be
composed of shallow ideas. The 2002 PEW report (http://www.pewinternet.org) found that
61% of internet users perceive the internet as a library. Huge quantities of information are
ignored by web crawlers. Google Scholar may list links to academic sources, but access is
denied and users are often asked to pay for material. There is a lack of understanding of how
search engines work and the commercial gains these search engines make. Common search
failures are a result of spelling mistakes, a poor understanding of their information needs which
lead to problems developing search strategies and generating alternative terms such as
synonyms, alternative spellings, inability to formulate queries, inability to identify multiple
concepts which all result in incorrect or skewed results. The common user experience is too
much, too little, not relevant, not knowing where to go and not knowing how systems work, not
being familiar with the domain.
What resources do academics use and how? Are they entrenched in using a narrow range of
tools or are they receptive to new ones? Are we guilty of the same behaviour? These are all
interesting questions and ones worth exploring if we want to find out who our users are and how
we can gear our service to fit these needs. Fieldhouse suggests that HE libraries should be
investing in finding out more about our users’ information seeking behaviours, how they access
or want to access library resources, how we can make content easier to use and have systems that
are as intuitive to use as Google. We need to address the complexity of search interfaces and the
inconsistency of terminology, search functions and refining mechanisms across different
platforms. This is how commercial organisations such as supermarkets operate. Why are
academic libraries not doing the same?
Both Fieldhouse and Hepworth questioned why Library Management Software (LMS) suppliers
have not used the advances in technology and created systems that incorporate Web 2.0 features.
This has resulted in libraries purchasing add-on software packages to compete with Google.
However, even federated searching is old hat now as it distinguishes between catalogues,
electronic journals and other resources. Both speakers (and later the presenters) suggested that
the time had come to make a return on investment for the decades spent creating good quality
catalogue records because many of the new technologies depend on the ‘richness’ of the record,
i.e. the metadata (the richer the descriptions of the information objects, the more that can be
extracted). Used in the appropriate way, Web 2.0 features such as tag clouds and faceted
classifications allow different views and enable refining, i.e. narrowing down or broadening a
The afternoon was spent looking at how some university libraries are using Simple Resource
Discovery Systems (SRDS) to compete with Google and promote their libraries. The four
systems demonstrated were: Exlibris’ PRIMO (University of East Anglia), ENCORE (Glasgow
University), ELIN (University of Portsmouth and University of Bath – both require user signon
to access their SRDS) and AQUABROWSER (University of Edinburgh). These SRDS use Web
2.0 functionalities so results are listed by relevance, there is no differentiation of media, they
allow refinements, use tag clouds, suggest possibilities, spellings, etc. The appendix to this report
has a summary of the key points from three of the presentations these products and some screen
shots showing how the products are being used in HE libraries in the UK. ELIN has not been
included as there were some serious concerns about the lack of support and documentation.
Of the SRDS demonstrated in the afternoon, I believe Aquabrowser it is the least expensive and
would consider it as it has been proven to work with Webfeat (which Edinburgh have also
purchased). However, I expect that the SRDS demonstrated at JIBS will evolve and become
more sophisticated. Users should be able to see if an item is available in the library from the top
screen (i.e. without having to click on a link) and also to be able to export references into
RefWorks/End Note, Zotero, CiteULike, etc.
School Liaison Manager
EIS & iWBL