Monday, December 21, 2009

How to make library users start a search : 6+ ways to search outside "native interface"

If library patrons are using your expensive database interfaces for extensive search, you are fine.
If you suspect they prefer another database, that's free, fast and simple, you're in danger.
If you can prove they really use that free, fast and easy search, you're too late :-)

So, our users think our resources are not fast and not easy to use. We HOPE they know it's not free, although this perspective can go both ways in .. They might even say "Well, it's not worth the money, because of poor performance and not being user-friendly.. We like them to believe it's worth the money, because WE decided to buy it based on it's quality. If they don't think it's worth they money, how do they think about us?
Besides free, fast and easy, there some other reasons for patrons NOT to use our preferred licenced databases:
  • they simply don't know about them, or 
  • they can't tell the difference or the added value for that matter
  • they can't find them or
  • they simply just don't take the effort to find them on our website when they need to search
  • they don't have that much time to spend on searching, or they don't want to spend that much time
We can't solve all problems in life, but we can offer users some help in starting a search at the right moment they need it, without them having to leave or drop whatever they are doing.

I will be talking about offering some ways to search in a normal users workflow platform, the browser. (So, I am not talking about integrated library tools in content management systems, or "your library"-systems, nor am i talking about possibities for offering search on the desktop or network.)
Firefox 3.5.5, Internet Explorer 8 and Chrome are discussed for obvious reasons. Internet Explorer is the most used one, Firefox the most loved one with the most options to customize and Chrome the latest and rising quickly in popularity.
Objectives to put some work into these options are:
  • to offer users " quickstart search"
  • to offer choice in search
  • to offer personalisation
  • to make them discover there is more
  • to make them discover librarians know really do know a lot about search :-) 
Offering lists and overviews of links in various forms on the library website are pretty normal. But users have to reach those pages first to be abled to use them. If you are lucky, they are clever enough to save those pages and resources they like in their Favorites or Bookmark folder. Why not offer them a Favorites or Bookmark folder from the Library to be imported in their browser? Inside a network or behind some firewalled environment, you could try and convince your it-department to push this folder as default in the default browser. This way the user does not have to worry about dead-links etc, because YOU will maintain them.
  • In IE and FF you can simply backup your Favourites/Bookmarks as a html file. Offer the html-file for download and users can import it into the browser.
  • Many people don't know about the keyboard shortcut option to copy a page to your Bookmarks/Favorites. Normally you use Ctrl-D in FF, IE and Chrome (unless you have Delicious installed as Add-on).
     EAHIL Search
(Type, choose and search!)

(get the code for EAHIL Search )

Search boxes on (Library) webpages.
Whén you got the user on your website, make starting a search as easy as possible. A good way to do this is to offer them a search box, with dropdown or database choise.
  • Don't worry about all kinds of limits and advanced search stuff, just get them to search and take them to the native interface with a quick search start.
  • But still you are expecting them to come to your pages first ... 
Browser search box 
 The search box in the right-top corner of the browser has become default in FF & IE.
What most people dón't know is that you can "manage" this box and the search engines in it! Even users without admin rights can add, edit and remove search engines. Seems like a good idea to explain people how this works and how they can create their own lists of engines.
Here is how to do it.
  • Firefox: Click the little dropdown icon right next to the icon of the searchbox. (This icon tells you which search engines is now active. Mind you this is not the same as the Default Search Engine, later more on this) Go to "Manage Search engines". You can re-arrange them, remove or use "Get More Search Engines"
  • Internet Explorer 8
    Go to the dropdown icon right next to the little magnifying glass and choose "Manage Search Providers". This will take you to the Manage Add-on feature from IE8. This version has about the same options.

    • Search Providers
    •  "Accelerators"   This is a new feature in IE, and works almost similar to the FF add-ons. I like the option to select text on the page to make the Accelerator button appear. Clicking on that, you get offered to do something with the selected text.
      (For search, i prefer the solution from Conduit Toolbars to put selected text right away into the search box.)
    • Toolbars and Add-ons
  •  Chrome
    Google Chrome has no searchbox.

    • They made the address bar the default searchbox. Just type your keywords in the address bar and hit Enter. And this completely fits in the growing trend on the web to make search possible from anywhere, in anything, at any time.
      Selected text can also be searched with a right click menu-option. This triggers the default search engine set in Chrome.
    • To manage these search engines in Chrome you go to the "Tools"  icon; then Options; Basics. You can not manually add search engines to Chrome, but this is greatly compensated with the following:
    • Chrome will automatically add search engines to the collection of engines that can be used. Just activate a search engine once in Chrome and check the Manage-option. When the search engine supports OpenSearch it will be added to the list.
Address bar Searching
  • Can you think of something even more easier? Just typing in that bar?
    In FF and IE you can activate this as well by setting the Default Search engine. Changing the default search engine of the search box, also changes this for the address bar.
Library toolbar add-on
  • a Library can install all its major search engines into a Toolbar (i.e. by Conduit) and offer it to users for download in FF and IE. It can be one Toolbar or a range of Toolbars grouped in one, with a toggle-option like the NLM Toolbar (combines 9 toolbars of NLM/NCBI major resources!)
  • Conduit Toolbars offer -besides addres bar searching- also putting any selected text straight into the search box.
  • Users have many ways to customize their Library Toolbar (read this post about 37+ ways
  • Libraries can created search & news components easily with the Add gadgets function that accepts codes & scripts in an easy copy & paste way. The Conduit platform powered with Netvibes functionality offers a great way to ensure that library content and services can be offered and distributed in an easy and quick way for many other platorms.  
  • For Toolbar Users: Users of the toolbars are offered a Add Stuff button [+] at the right end of the toolbar.
    Marketplace 68.000 components by others toolbar admins and a very substantial amount of Netvibes widgets from Netvibes own widget marketplace
    Search for Toolbar components (for toolbar users and other interested people)
Search boxes (html) BASED on Conduit Toolbars.
These boxes offer a top frame with resources for follow-up quick search.
Try the EAHIL search box in this post and see for yourself. Users can see other available databases and search them without having to re-type the keywords.

Advice to Use a Personal Toolbar: Google Toolbar
The Google Toolbar is the best toolbar for personal use, offering loads of functionality and interoperability with your browser and the web.Add search engines on the fly to your own Toolbar. Click-Right inside the search box of the search engine that you want to add. Choose: Generate Custom Search. You will be offered to add a custum button to your toolbar. Searching in this search engine again can be started just by typing in search term in the google search box ánd hitting the newly added button. Just clicking the button (without any search terms) will take you to the right website.

      1. Users can create their own collection of search options in the toolbar.
      2. Libraries can create Search Buttons of their resources for the Google Toolbar, Directory 
      3. Libraries can create Gadgets and Submit them in the Toolbar Button Gallery .
        If you have created Google gadgets before, you can just enter their url's.
        See some examples for Pubmed (look for the :-)

Most important for all these options, is to let your users know about them and to let them FIND them on the web. Take any opportunity you have, in your user contacts, to listen to what they want and "show off" on these helpful tools and tips.

Please let me know what other ways of easy search-start in the browser I have missed.

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