Just like a Minnesota Summer, my three and a half days at the 2011 American Library Association Annual Conference flew by. In addition to spending time in committee meetings, preparing for and giving a presentation on Evergreen migrations with colleagues from Bibliomation and Equinox, and catching up with fellow librarians, I managed to squeeze in a few interesting sessions and do some trendspotting in the exhibit hall.
Not surprisingly the sessions of interest related directly to the trends displayed by the vendors: discovery interfaces, open source, and mobile platforms.
While vendors promoted their various discovery tools, Rice Majors of the University of Colorado presented on the “Usability of Next Gen Interfaces.” Majors partnered with five universities to compare the EBSCO Discovery Service, Encore Synergy, Primo Central, Summon, and WordCat Local by performing task-based usability tests with undergraduate students at the University of Colorado. While each product had it’s own set of strengths and weaknesses, Majors made the following observations:
- Students liked to search widely and then narrow down their results. They were not bothered by inclusive results.
- Vendors lacked a unified idea of what constitutes a next gen/discovery interface. This made comparisons challenging. It also means that during the investigation and evaluation phase of implementation librarians need to consider what exactly they want to achieve through the use of a discovery interface.
- Regardless of how well-designed the interface was, students still needed training in information literacy to be successful researchers.
- Names matter: “clever” library catalog nicknames are confusing to students; EBSCO Discovery Service is similarly confusing, as students associate EBSCO with articles.
- None of the interfaces made it clear what was or was not indexed. Students would type searches such as “interlibrary loan” into the search box and expect results.
- There is a fine line between “too much stuff” on the initial search screen and oversimplification.
- No matter what interface a library uses, easy access to “ask a librarian” features is essential.
Despite the many interface shortcomings Majors observed, he noted that all products are improving the student research experience. Information I’ve seen elsewhere – at ALA, previous conferences and demos, and in the literature – confirm these observations…and make me wish that research had been this streamlined when I was a student!
As the primary Support and Training Specialist for PALS’ installation of Evergreen, I spent much of my time at ALA talking to other folks from the open source community. At my presentation, a presentation by fellow IMLS Grant participants, and at the Saturday night open source gathering at Bourbon House, the main question from non-open source ILS users was, “knowing what you know now, would still have migrated to an open source ILS?” Without fail, each of us answered that we would definitely do it again, but with the caveat that we would adjust our migration plan to accommodate various surprises encountered along the way. We were unanimous in our enthusiasm for open source, but were also quick to point out frustrations we’d had with our various projects and encourage possible adopters to consider staffing levels, timelines, and/or external support organizations when creating an implementation plan.
This trend will likely come as no surprise to people, so I will be brief in my summary…mobile interfaces were everywhere. And ALA attendees were prepared to use them, as it seemed as though everyone was toting an iPad or smart phone. I, like many, borrowed the office iPad for my trip and if I ever have to travel with my laptop again, it will be too soon. I am looking forward to seeing what sort of mobile interface PALS can create for MnPALS Plus. There has also been chatter about a mobile app for Evergreen – stay tuned!