Serials Solutions announced September 13 that its web-scale discovery product Summon has reached the 100-customer mark. (The company chosen not to name its 100th customer because “it’s a three-way dead-on tie,” according to media representative Beth Dempsey.) The single-search-box serials discovery service went on sale in July 2009.
“The proof that our approach is working is clear, based on customer response,” Vice President of Product Management and Marketing Stan Sorensen told American Libraries. “Summon was designed and built specifically and explicitly to solve a clearly recognized problem,” he said. That problem, he went on to explain, was that librarians and researchers used to have a loyalty to resources, but “over the course of the last 10 years, that loyalty has shifted to search engines.”
Attempting to bolster libraries’ relevance despite that shift, Summon’s single unified index is skinned with a simple user interface to give it a decidedly Google-like experience, encouraging researchers to use the product for discovery and not just known-item searching. Summon “upholds the library’s values,” Sorensen told AL, with relevance-ranked results and by exposing students and librarians to the “edges of the collection” with unified indexing across multiple databases. “That means more return on collection investment,” he continued.
Grand Valley study
Research conducted during Summon’s development phase identified that while libraries spend the bulk of their annual budgets on developing their collections, most libraries’ materials are not used to the fullest because researchers simply don’t know where to start or how to navigate. Studies into the impact of Summon on user behavior—done at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, which implemented Summon in August 2009—demonstrate an increased use of library resources by students that ranged from 50% to 150%.
“It was clear that [Summon] did what we always wanted federated search to do,” Doug Way, head of collections at Grand Valley, told AL. “It provided users with a simple starting point to access library resources.” After a “great deal of analysis of usage statistics,” Way observes a dramatic increase in the use of full-text databases and online collections, while the numbers of abstract and index databases were down. The full findings of his study are scheduled to be published in a forthcoming issue of Serials Review.
After going through two different federated-search implementations, Grand Valley was “never completely satisfied with the user’s experience for all the standard reasons,” Way explained. “Speed, complexity, the lack of an intuitive interface, etc.” Speaking on return on investment, Way admits there was “no bump in use” after implementing the last federated-search product. But Summon changed that. “We found huge increases in the use of news databases like LexisNexis Academic or Ethnic NewsWatch,” he said, speaking on the ways Summon opens up previously difficult-to-find materials to users. Although the library had set up “news” searches in federated search products, he explained, “we didn’t see a change in use.”
Way concedes that in many cases students would have better success with a subject-specific database, but “in an enormous interdisciplinary database like Summon, it is also likely that users are going to come across resources they had not anticipated finding,” he said. He claims that an early look at Summon “suggests that web-scale discovery is the game-changer we thought it would be.”
Also making a big splash in the area of web-scale discovery is EBSCO’s Discovery Service product. First announced in January, EDS has garnered a sizeable handful of users already, including Northeastern University, Indiana University Bloomington, and the University of Liverpool, since late summer.
EBSCO Discovery Service boasts a claim similar to Summon’s at creating a single, unified index. The base index contains articles from 20,000 publishers. Each library builds on the base index to include metadata from its own institutional repositories and special collections, making each implementation unique. “This allows EDS customers to pull results from outside the base index,” EBSCO PR Manager Kathleen McEvoy told AL.
Leveraging the base index of content that already in EBSCO gives users a similar look and feel as they move from the search results into the article itself. In announcing a study similar to Grand Valley’s, Northeastern University Associate Dean for Scholarly Resources Amira Aaron said July 20 that “Northeastern students know the EBSCOhost platform and by introducing EDS we are able to provide additional content and include our catalog, all within a familiar environment which means an easy transition for students and staff.”