Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Researching Researchers: Developing Evidence-Based Strategy for Improved Discovery and Access

How do you improve discovery and access to improve researchers, academics and students better? Roger C Schonfeld, Direct of the Library and Scholarly Communications Program at Ithaka S+R, chaired a panel including publisher, librarian and a library supplier at the 2015 ALPSP Conference.

Lettie Conrad, Executive Manager for Online Products at SAGE talked about their research on discoverability and delivery and learning from users to support their work. It's not about the user experience, it's about understanding the researcher experience. SAGE organises their product delivery on personas based on researchers and use case studies.

Conrad observed that whether we like it or not, the majority of search starts with the mainstream web. As a researcher advances in study skills and moves along their academic careers, they start to shift to speciality databases. Library discovery is for known items.


They undertook research into researcher experience through their workflow. Findings on queries included higher use of open web search reported, validating authenticity, browser trends.  Findings on retrieval included 100% manually managed citations, low use of hyperlinked reference, few 'version of record' checks. Many  use citation metrics, but only if they were above the fold and nearby.

They went on to ask what the uptake was for apps and tools and were surprised to hear that they didn't help with citation. It was a pain point. Easy import of citations was important. Being able to personalise their digital library.  What did this all mean for SAGE's strategy? They take the research findings to help shape strategy and ensure content is discoverable. They ensure they have  good usage statistics. their discovery strategy is based on their channels (library, open web, social media, academic, SAGE universe). Metadata is a key part of their strategy in three ways: stewardship, optimization and distribution. In the future, they are focusing on what's beyond search. What about the serendipitous process?

Deirdre Costello, Senior UX Researcher at EBSCO talked about how user expectations are formed on the open web, what users look for to make decisions about library resources, and why we need to think about our search results as one of the most important user experiences we can craft.

They conducted a video diary research programme to gather honest and open feedback from college and university students aged 14-18 years old. The great thing about this approach is that they saw the whole ecosystem as well as the wider range of tools they use to organise their lives. The expectations from these wider tools get ported on to those for college use.

Students have competing demands on their time from learning to do laundry for the first time, to making friends and keeping in touch with family. In addition to this, the changing neurology of minds to skim and scan content, impacts on how students search and interact with research.

Students have used Google for years and trust it, focusing on the top five results as it must be them that screwed up with the wrong search term, right? It's only when a tutor takes time out to explain how to question sources that students start to understand you can't trust everything you find on the web.




Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe is Professor/Coordinator for Strategic Planning/Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction at the University of Illinois' Library. They have articulated a user-centric framework of principles for library service development.

If you add a default search to your Easy Search query, there's a massive jump in usage. It is a very important piece of real estate for discovery. They use an evidence based and user centric framework in all their work and repeatedly go back to the data.


Their users value seamless, digital delivery. They want coherent discovery pathways. They want things as simple as possible, but NOT simplistic. When they say they want 'everything', it's from THEIR perspective. They have tried and tested a number of search options: transparency, predictability/explainability  and customisability are important.


Changing user behaviours include: the length of queries are growing, known item searches are increasing and there is an increasing use of copy and paste searching.

The user tasks that they aim to support are:

  • locate known item
  • locate known research tool
  • explore topic
  • identify/access library tools/databases for topic
  • identify/access research data and tools
  • identify assistance.
This had led to a range of discovery principles. They required personalisation and customisation with full library discovery for content, services and spaces. They want the fewest steps from discovery to delivery. Everything owned, licensed or provided by the library should be discoverable. They aim to fully develop and deploy fewer tools. They are aiming for a wide scale implementation of adaptive contextual assistance and use consistent language and labelling. Crucially for a state funded institution, they require the greatest discovery delivered at the lowest cost.

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