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Library Student Advisory Group

November 20 2013

Present: Davi Strauss Bernstein, Drew Donaldson, Jane McCamant, Christina McClernon, Aidan Milliff, Wilson Miu, Abigail Shearrow, Haonan (Bill) Zhou
From the Library and University:Judi Nadler (chair), David Bietila, Rachel Rosenberg, Rebecca Starkey, James Vaughan, John Kimbrough

Welcome to a new year, a new room (Room 122), and new members!

Review of LSAG Role and Goals

The Library Student Advisory Group "serves as a formal channel of communication between students and the Library Administration" (from the group's charge). In previous years, LSAG has discussed and provided feedback on several Library activities and projects, including:

To better reflect the group's mission and activities, and to make the group noteworthy to possible new members, the group decided to adopt the name Library Student Advisory Group.

New Library Catalog

(introduced by David Bietila, Library Web Program Director)

The Library has been working for almost a year on a new online catalog that would replace both Lens and the old Library Catalog (HIP). Both of these products are no longer actively maintained by the companies responsible for them, making it necessary to search for a replacement. Further, the Library is helping develop Kuali OLE, an open-source integrated library system that will replace Horizon, our existing library system handling many of our "back-end" functions. The OLE project (very deliberately) does not include any public interface, allowing participating libraries to choose an interface that is most suitable for them, but also means we will need a new "front end" before we migrate to OLE. 

The new Library Catalog is based on VuFind, an open-source interface developed at Villanova and in use at many other libraries including Brown and HathiTrust. Although the product is free, we have invested significant staff time in further developing and customizing the program for our use. This design work has involved the LSAG in May 2012 and November 2012. We plan to have a short period of staff testing soon, and a public beta test of the catalog in Winter 2014, with full production deployment of the new catalog later next year. LSAG members requested that there not be an abrupt transition between interfaces, and that the shift from Lens/HIP to the new Catalog not be scheduled during heavy research periods. Judi emphasized that the Library would not deploy the new catalog during peak times.

Design Goals

We wanted to retain features from the old catalogs that users found valuable. Our user testing (more below) revealed two types of searching: many students use our existing catalogs as discovery tools, looking to find information on a given topic, while faculty tended to use the existing catalogs for known-item searching, to determine if the Library held a specific book or article. We wanted the new Library Catalog to support both approaches. In addition, we are incorporating a more modern design, support for searching on mobile devices, and (eventually) allowing user to customize their search experience.

User Testing and Catalog Development

We began our development work by collecting user stories through interviews with over 20 individuals and groups. We collected over 200 users stories, and eventually distilled this list down to 100 feature requests, such as "I would like to see 50 results per page," or "I would like to limit results to English-language materials." David reported this work to the LSAG in May 2012. While development was taking place, we also did several smaller studies that tested various language/wording choices, element placement, and other page design features. One test we did was a simple"XO test" for the Catalog home page, asking study participants to pick various page elements they liked/didn't like.

This week we completed a functional test, where we asked several student participants to complete various "real world" research tasks using the new Library Catalog. This test helps us find any "break points" or places of frustration for users. We're still analyzing the data from this study.

Catalog Preview

The new catalog can be previewed and used at The initial screen offers three search starting points: basic keyword, advanced keyword, and "begins with" (a browse search in library jargon). We're still working on good descriptors for these options. Once you begin typing in a search string, VuFind tries to "auto-complete" from results (similar to Google). This was a feature used heavily by users in testing, so we left it turned on. Quoting a phrase means "search as phrase" (again, similar to Google).

The search results screen ranks results by relevance and offers refinement options on the right sidebar, like Lens. However, we've also included item status/availability so that it's easy to see which items are available (vs. checked out), and any full-text options if available. There is also a "brief view" screen that displays a reduced selection of information about each item -- this is useful for mobile devices.

Once you find an item of interest, from the full record you can check the availability, see services applicable to the item (Scan and Deliver, Borrow Direct, etc.), export the item record to citation management software, and more.

The catalog automatically shows a "mobile view" for small screens. (Not all services or information about the record will be displayed.)

LSAG Feedback:

The LSAG had substantial discussion about the labeling of the "Begins with:" (browse) search. Some LSRG members thought that "Begins With:" implied a keyword search incorporating truncation (e.g., "Dost" would return results related to "Dostoyevsky") instead of a browse search. Two suggested solutions were (a) a more descriptive naming convention for the searches -- instead of "Keyword" and "Begins With", perhaps "Google Search" and "Card Catalog Search", or (b) a HIP-like design, where the browse and keyword options were on the same page, and example searches were listed.

Judi inquired if LSAG members searched Lens or HIP. Most were indifferent between the two catalog interfaces, although two LSAG members indicated a preference for HIP (for known-item searching, browsing LCSH headings, or call# browse).

During testing many users enjoyed seeing cover artwork (book cover images) in the search results, because it was easy to distinguish between different editions. LSAG members affirmed this finding: it's very easy to check if one has the right book (the "blue Machiavelli" vs. the Penguin Classics edition,  for example), and assists users when finding books in the bookstacks, although the editions don't always match. Cover art is suppressed in the brief results view, and suppressing artwork may be a future user-customizable option.

Other LSAG comments and questions included:

Overall the interface looks really nice, said LSAG members. Please feel free to test the new catalog on your own: the URL is The site is still in development, so it may go up/down and/or change unexpectedly, and some things (like My Account) aren't complete. We also have a "Leave Feedback" button/form, and we encourage you to leave feedback.

Library Module in Chalk

(introduced by Rebecca)

At the start of Fall Quarter, the Library and IT Services introduced a Library Help module in Chalk. When implemented, the module suggests a relevant subject research guide and librarian for the course. (Research guides and appropriate librarians are automatically selected based on the course prefix of the "host" department.) About 30% of the existing courses have the Library module: the others may be extensively cross-listed (we can only list 2 departments for each course), the instructor or TA may have made the module disappear during their customizations, or the course was created before September 15, 2013 -- this usually means it was copied from an earlier Chalk template.

Have LSAG members seen the module? Most had not, but one member reported seeing the module, and the guide matched what was expected. Despite its scarcity, the module seems like a good idea, said LSRG members -- a large number of students don't seem to know about the research guides, so anything we can do to promote the guides seems good, and the module also reminds students that the Library has subject specialists.

One LSAG member noted that courses making extensive use of the Library sometimes don't use Chalk all that much (BA colloquia, for example).

In future quarters, we hope to have more classes that incorporate the Library module into their Chalk sites. If you think the module is a good idea, we encourage you to ask your instructor to add the module to the course site. We also welcome suggestions for improvement, and any comments (positive or negative) you hear from peers about the module -- please send to Rebecca.

Next Meeting and Future Topics

The next LSRG meeting will take place in Winter Quarter 2013 (date TBD; look for a poll in early January). Also, the Library's annual holiday party will be on December 9th -- you are invited!

Please send Rebecca any suggestions for future topic ideas. Although not a full-fledged topic, one LSAG member suggested we better publicize that the Library does take credit card payments for fines and fees (by phone).

If you have other suggestions for topics, or further comments on any topic discussed today, feedback can be sent to our list: