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You Gotta Keep 'em Separated: The Case for "Bento Box" Discovery Interfaces

  • Jason Thomale, jason.thomale@unt.edu, University of North Texas
    Libraries

I know, I know--proposing a talk about Resource Discovery is like, so
2010.

The thing is, practically all of us--in academic libraries at
least--have a similar set up for discovery, with just a few variations,
and so talking about it still seems useful. Stop me if this sounds
familiar. You've got a single search box on the library homepage as a
starting point for discovery. And it's probably a tabbed affair, with an
option for searching the catalog for books, an option for searching a
discovery service for articles, an option for searching databases, and
maybe a few others. Maybe you have an option to search everything at
once--probably the default, if you have it. And, if you're a crazy
hepcat, maybe you only have your one search that searches everything,
with no tabs.

Now, the question is, for your "everything" search, are you doing a
combined list of results, or are you doing it bento-box style, with a
short results list from each category displayed in its own compartment?

At UNT, we've been holding off on implementing an "everything" search,
for various reasons. One reason is that the evidence for either style
hasn't been very clear. There's this persistent paradox that we just
can't reconcile: users tell us, through word and action, that they
prefer searching Google, yet, libraries aren't Google, and there are
valid design reasons why we shouldn't try to oversimplify our discovery
interfaces to be like Google. And there's user data that supports both
sides.

Holding off on making this decision has granted us 2 years of data on
how people use our tabbed search interface that does not include an
"everything" search. Recently I conducted a thorough analysis of this
data--specifically the usage and query data for our catalog and
discovery system (Summon). And I think it helps make the case for a
bento box style discovery interface. To be clear, it isn't exactly the
smoking gun that I was hoping for, but the picture it paints I think is
telling. At the very least, it points away from a combined-results
approach.

I'm proposing a talk discussing the data we've collected, the trends
we've seen, and what I think it all means--plus other reasons that we're
jumping on the "bento box" discovery bandwagon and why I think "bento
box" is at this point the path that least sells our souls.

Slides (including notes) are available here.

A written report covering the analysis discussed during the presentation in more detail is available here.