Sometimes More Is Less

Sometimes More Is Less

This year, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about search boxes on library home pages. I’m gearing up to present a plan for redoing the one at my library in the next year and have spent a lot of time looking at how other libraries have solved this design problem (I’ve also been looking closely at search on lots of commercial websites, such as Amazon, eBay, Wal-Mart, etc.). One thing I would love…

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Pull quote: “Our overall approach is that we want to work alongside students (something that we’ve done before in our personalisation research) in a model that draws a lot of inspiration from a co-design approach. Instead of building something and then usability testing it with students at the end we want to involve students at a much earlier stage in the process so for example they can help to draw up the functional specification.”

Pull quote: “Users recognize a magnifying-glass icon as meaning ‘search’ even without a textual label. The downside is that icon-only search is harder for users to find.”

Pull quote: “It’s not just that contemporary A.I. hasn’t solved these kinds of problems yet; it’s that contemporary A.I. has largely forgotten about them. In Levesque’s view, the field of artificial intelligence has fallen into a trap of ‘serial silver bulletism,’ always looking to the next big thing, whether it’s expert systems or Big Data, but never painstakingly analyzing all of the subtle and deep knowledge that ordinary human beings possess. That’s a gargantuan task— ‘more like scaling a mountain than shoveling a driveway,’ as Levesque writes. But it’s what the field needs to do.”

Pull quote: “Libraries should be at the cutting edge of search, but we’re still stuck in the Boolean Age. We’re obsessed with the options on the ‘advanced search’ page and not with the user experience. We think it’s more important to have a MARC view option in the OPAC than for the catalogue search results to be relevancy ranked.”

Pull quote: “Consistent with earlier ERIAL findings, the students in the new study tended to use every tool’s search function box as though it were a Google search box. And they tended not to adjust the default settings.

Therefore, the efficacy of each discovery tool often depends on how well the criteria written into the default search algorithm of that particular tool accords with the criteria of the particular research assignment it is being used for, say the researchers.”

Pull quote: “30.6% of searches used at least one facet to refine the results.”

Pull quote: “At one point I invited them to summon a grain of sand into existence, name it uniquely, cast it onto the web, and wait for search engines to notice.”

Pull quote: “One of the fundamental concepts in UX is notion of affordance: the idea that objects should behave in the manner that their appearance suggests. A push plate on a door affords pushing; a handle afford pulling. How many times have you walked up to a door and found it behaved contrary to your expectations? Invariably this is caused by a mismatch between form and function. Likewise, the design of the search box should follow its function. Its purpose is to allow the user to enter queries in the form of keywords, so it should look like it will accept textual input, and have an associated button that clearly indicates its function.”

Pull quote: “Under the shift, people who search for ‘Lake Tahoe’ will see key ‘attributes’ that the search engine knows about the lake, such as its location, altitude, average temperature or salt content. In contrast, those who search for ‘Lake Tahoe’ today would get only links to the lake’s visitor bureau website, its dedicated page on, and a link to a relevant map. For a more complex question such as, ‘What are the 10 largest lakes in California?’ Google might provide the answer instead of just links to other sites.”

Pull quote: “Now UKPMC has launched a new feature – Evidence Finder – that allows you to ask questions across the whole of PubMedCentral – that’s over 400k articles, or 10,004,566 sentences about genes, proteins, diseases & metabolites.”

Pull quote: “Strategies to lure people back to the stacks, so they are on turf we understand, will fail. The better course is to build algorithms into search engines that encourage serendipity. Bring browsing into the workflow people actually use, rather than pining for the good old days. This would be an intersection of librarian organizational strength and computing science prowess, but in this blurry age the boundaries between fields are collapsing anyway.”

Pull quote: “For me, yesterday’s adventure in blended serendipity is a very good reminder not to get sucked into the either/or debates about serendipity and online vs. physical browsing/discovery. It doesn’t have to be just one or the other … in this case a nice combination of tools and methods worked just fine.”