III report: “WE LOVE THE LIBRARY, BUT WE LIVE ON THE WEB.”

ILS Vendor III has released a report based on a survey of patrons at 7 UK academic libraries:

“WE LOVE THE LIBRARY, BUT WE LIVE ON THE WEB.” Findings around how academic library users view online resources and services (You have to register to download)

Some of the summary of findings from the report:

  • “User behaviours are increasingly pervasive, cutting across age, experience, and subject areas”
  • “Online anywhere, on any device, is the default access setting”
  • “Almost without exception, users are selecting different discovery tools to meet different requirements, ranging from known item searches to broad investigation of a new topic. Perhaps with some credit due to recent ‘discovery layer’ developments, the specialist library search is very much of interest in this bag of tools, alongside global search engines and more particular entry points such as Google Scholar and Wikipedia.”
  • Library Search is under informed scrutiny. Given a user base that is increasingly aware of the possibilities for discovery and subsequent access, there are frustrations regarding a lack of unified coverage of the library content, the failure to deliver core purposes well (notably, known item searches and uninterrupted flow-through to access), and unfavourable comparisons with global search engines in general and Google Scholar in particular. We note:
    • Global Search Engines – Whilst specialised tools are valued, the global search engines (and especially Google) are the benchmark.
    • Unified Search – Local collection search needs to be unified, not only across print and electronic, but also across curatorial silos (archives, museums, special collections, repositories, and research data stores).
    • . Search Confidence – As well as finding known items reliably and ordering results accordingly, library search needs to be flexible and intelligent, not obstructively fussy and inexplicably random.

I think this supports some of the directions we’ve been trying to take here. We’ve tried to make our system play well with Google Scholar (both directing users to Google Scholar as an option where appropriate, and using Umlaut to provide as good a landing page as possible when users come from Google Scholar and want access to licensed copies, phyisically held copies, or ILL services for items discovered).  We’ve tried to move toward a unified search in our homegrown-from-open-source-components catalog.

And most especially we’ve tried to focus on “uninterrupted flow-through to access”, again with the Umlaut tool.

We definitely have a ways to go in all these areas, it’s an uphill struggle in many ways , as discussed in my previous comments on the Ithaka report on Streamlining Access to Scholarly Resources.

But I think we’ve at least been chasing the right goals.

Another thing noted in the report:

  • “Electronic course readings are crucial (Sections 8, 12) Clearly, the greatest single issue raised in qualitative feedback is the plea for mandated / recommended course readings— and, ideally, textbooks—to be universally available as digital downloads,”

We’ve done less work locally in this direction, on course reserves in general, and I think we probably ought to. This is one area where I’d especially wonder if UK users may not be representative of U.S. users — but I still have no doubt that our undergraduate patrons spend enough time with course readings to justify more of our time then we’ve been spending on analyzing what they need in electronic systems and improving them.

The report makes a few recommendations:

  • “The local collection needs to be surfaced in the wider ecosystem.”
  • “Libraries should consider how to encompass non-text resources.”
  • “Electronic resources demand electronic workflows.”
  • “Libraries should empower users like any modern digital service. Increasing expectations exist across all user categories—likely derived from experiences with other services—that the library should provide ‘Apps’ geared to just-in-time support on the fly (ranging from paying a fine to finding a shelf) and should also support interactions for registered returning users with transaction histories, saved items, and profile-enabled automated recommendations.”
  • “Social is becoming the norm”

Other findings suggest that ‘known item searches’ are still the most popular use of the “general Library search”, although “carry out an initial subject search” is still present as well.  And that when it comes to ebooks, “There is notably strong support to be able to download content to use on any device at any time.”  (Something we are largely failing at, although we can blame our vendors).

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