I’ve been spending the last few weeks setting up new systems for our Learning Commons that will, hopefully, allow users (students and staff) to find resources more easily in our school library collection.  The beauty of an increasingly digital collection is that one can search it much more thoroughly.  The down side is that the resources become more and more hidden.  How do you know if an ebook exists, if you can’t see it sitting on the shelf?  As someone who could spend a lifetime simply browsing shelves, this is an issue.

I’ve been playing with 3 new services (new to us) from EBSCO that I think will help this problem.  At the core of this is our new search engine, the EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS).  This is a product that has been pricey and aimed at larger library systems (public and academic) until fairly recently.  A review of pricing structures has put it within reach of K-12 schools and offers some key functionality that, I’m hoping, will increase use of the databases that we subscribe to and help folks become more aware of our digital resources in general.  The basic landing page of the EDS interface is extremely simple in that it is a single search field.  It offers a look and simplicity that is familiar to our community who’s default search engine is Google and can be embedded on other pages where we might want our users to access the collection easily.  There is an autocomplete feature as you begin to type your search term, but rather than being constructed of commonly searched terms, it is based on subject headings pulled from the databases.  In my mind, this is ideal, given that it allows students to expand or refine their thinking about their search by exploring subject headings that are being used to describe the resources in the databases.  Of course, there is an Advanced Search option, that allows the user to get much more specific with their initial search.

Under the hood, we have the robust EBSCO results list with multiple post-search filters that database users expect.  One can limit the results to only items within the library catalogue with one click, or filter results by subject, date, database or any number of other filters.

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What I like about this style of search is that the searcher focuses on the topic being searched first, and then can see what media the needed information is delivered in.  Rather than looking through the DVD collection or the book collection, one performs a cross-search of all media to discover where the information they need lives.  Of course, one can always filter a search on source type or content provider to narrow it by media if one needs to.

The results page is also quite useful with extended features than what one might expect from your standard results page.  The basic information is all there including the call number to find the book on the shelf (if appropriate).

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But what we also have is a series of windows that contain additional information about the resource including, other similar books, reviews or even a preview through Google Books to get a more direct sense of what the title is about.

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We have also upgraded our subscription to Novelist so that it now connects reader recommendations to titles in our catalogue.  No more frustrated readers getting suggested books that we don’t have!

Finally, we have added Library Aware to our arsenal of promotional tools.  Originally designed for the public library market, I think that we are one of the first to give it a shot in the School Library realm.  Library Aware is a product that streamlines the publicizing of items in the collection and online databases.  Newsletters can be created or adapted from a large number of templated publications to promote pretty much anything related to your library from books to events.  I particularly like the opt-in page that allows potential subscribers to choose to subscribe to your newsletters.  Our community gets inundated with enough email.  I would rather than someone chooses to subscribe than simply gets a ton of emails from us that they don’t want.

We can also create visually appealing widgets to place on school or course specific web sites that address a topic and link, when clicked, to a collection of articles already searched from within our database collection.  This seems like a great way to keep the focus on the information needs without scaring students away with the perceived complexity of an online database.

It is early days with these products, and we are still working some bugs out, but if readers are interested, I can post an update down the road when we get a better feel for the effectiveness of our endeavours.  At first blush, it feels like we are making finding information easier, increasing use of library resources, and creating a bit of an increased buzz around the Learning Commons at the beginning of a new year.  All good things!

 

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