Here’s a talk about federated search and Amalgamatic that I gave at HTML5DevConf in October. Hopefully, the conference will post a better quality video where you can actually see the demos. But for now, this is what I recorded.
Academic libraries offer many resources, but users cannot be expected to search in, say, a half dozen different interfaces to find what they’re looking for. So academic libraries typically offer federated search.
Sometimes, a solution is purchased. Many libraries, for example, use 360 Search.
Here at UCSF, we are among the libraries that have built our own federated search. Twice.
Back in February, the new Web Projects Team made known our purpose and guiding principles. All of that still holds true, but we realized that “Support education and meet the research needs of our users regardless of location or device” might need some clarification. UCSF is a somewhat unique academic institution having more staff than students and no undergraduates, among other things. So who is the primary audience that the library supports?
Primary Audiences served by the Library
- Teaching faculty
- usually also involved in clinical research or practice or basic science research
- Students in degree programs
- professional students in medicine, pharmacy, nursing, and dentistry
- graduate students in basic science
- graduate students in social sciences, nursing, and history
- Researchers in basic science or clinical medicine
- PhD students
- lab managers/research staff
Notice that there is a fair amount of overlap between audiences with some people wearing multiple hats.
Of course there are others who use the Library too, for example, alumni, the public, visitors, Library staff, outside librarians, etc. They can all still benefit from parts of our site, but their needs will not drive decisions about how to structure our web pages and services. Ultimately, everything about the UCSF Library web should make it easier and more intuitive for the three audiences listed above to meet their research and education needs. All else is secondary, though not necessarily unimportant.
UCSF by the numbers
To define these audiences, we began by simply consulting the counts already provided by UCSF. However, those completely ignore Lab Managers and Research Assistants who have many of the same library needs as postdocs. There are also other staff members who do a lot of legwork for faculty, and therefore, reflect the library needs of faculty even though they are not counted as such. And if you talk about “students,” you must realize that the library needs of a medical student are completely different from those of a social sciences PhD. This means that the numbers are a rough estimate for our purposes.
These less obvious realities were gleaned from talking to people. The Library already tends to focus a lot on the Service Desk and subject liaisons when thinking about user interactions. To balance that, we decided to interview a variety of other library employees who act as liaisons to various user segments with library needs. A big thank you goes out to these individuals who took the time to share their super-valuable insights about user work patterns, language, and challenges!
- Megan Laurance on basic science researchers
- Art Townsend on Mission Bay users
- Ben Stever and Kirk Hudson on Tech Commons users
- Polina Ilieva and Maggie Hughes on researchers of special collections and archives
- Dylan Romero on those who use multimedia stations and equipment and the CLE
A few other sources of insight came from meetings of the Student Advisory Board to the Library, LibQual feedback, and the Resource Access Improvement group.
We also came to the conclusion that it is helpful to think about users in terms of what they DO rather than by title alone. It’s the nature of their work that really defines their needs regarding library support. Once again the numbers are a rough estimate, but the segmentation they reveal is still helpful.
The Web Projects Team will continue to make iterative improvements to the Library web presence, some small and some larger, driven by our now established Purpose and Guiding Principles and through the lens of our primary audiences.
We will also be regularly checking feedback from end users via usage statistics and quick user tests, and that will in turn, drive further improvements. In addition, we’ll continue to share about the evolution of the Library web and improvements to the user experience. If you have questions or comments on any of this, we’re all ears!