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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Knowing what pool you're swimming in

Last week I heard Susan Gangl, a librarian in our Arts & Humanities unit, describe the core message of a workshop covering a variety of library databases: Know what pool you're swimming in.

That message remains important for our newest, and arguably most visible, database, MNCAT Article Discovery. Unlike most databases, which are designed to focus on a particular discipline or audience, MNCAT Article Discovery is designed to include as many possibilities as is practical. Also unlike most databases, Libraries staff can choose which of the sources made available by our vendor, Ex Libris, to activate. The set of all sources available through Ex Libris is called the Primo Central Index (PCI).

As we work through the long list of available sources, we are discovering that selecting which to activate is a bit of an art. Our goal for MNCAT Article Discovery is that it provide a useful array of starting points for the user with minimal "clutter." If we activate everything, we run the risk of alienating the very users we want to help by providing too many choices. If we activate too little, too many users will miss out on useful starting points.

Among the guidelines we used to determine the initial configuration:
  • If it's subscription-based and we subscribe, it's activated.
  • If it's free references material, it's not activated. We've seen implementations at other institutions where the first hit is typically from Wikipedia. Our assumption is that our users will have already looked at Wikipedia before coming to the library if they needed the sort of background Wikipedia articles offer.
  • If it's better discovered through specialized search tools, we leaned toward not activating. We still have a plethora of databases available that are designed to help people find materials in a particular discipline or of a particular type.
  • Minimize multiple points of access to a title in a single search result.  For example, we could get e-book records from the PCI, but we also catalog those we have access to.  For now, such records will be available in both MNCAT and MNCAT Article Discovery, since the results are not blended.  This will be revisited when we move to Alma and blend it with MNCAT Article Discovery.
  • Avoid clutter. For example, we chose not to activate HathiTrust Digital Library at this time. Currently the HathiTrust includes individual records for journal issues which we felt would provide too many returns.

You can find our current lists of what is active and what is not at http://z.umn.edu/pci. If you don't find a particular database on one list or another, that database isn't available through Ex Libris. For many sources, the lists include reason why the source was or was not activated. Note that the activated resources are on the main tab and deactivated resources are on the second tab.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Introducing MNCAT Article Discovery

The world of research contains a vast number of information sources: books, articles, conference papers, reference materials, and so on. Experienced researchers and librarians know that it's easier to find the sources you need by first choosing where to look. Libraries help facilitate the research process by providing access to a wide variety of databases. 

These databases typically index literature in a particular discipline or for a specific purpose. While helpful--even vital--for focused research, choosing among the hundreds of databases licensed by University Libraries is overwhelming for those less familiar with the process, and even for specialists in one field who need to branch into something new to them.

This fall, we are introducing yet another database to this mix: MNCAT Article Discovery. Rather than limiting a search to a predetermined scope, MNCAT Article Discovery indexes most of our licensed resources as well as a selection of the freely available content typically found through Google Scholar or an Internet search engine.

Of course, when it comes to results, more doesn't necessarily mean better. MNCAT Article Discovery uses a robust relevancy ranking algorithm combined with powerful facets to help the user focus on the most appropriate resources to meet their current research need. We'll provide more information on relevancy and facets in a future post.

In September, MNCAT Article Discovery will be the default search target from the Articles and Databases tab of the Libraries website. It will also be listed in the Databases A-Z list accessible from that page. For now, you can try out MNCAT Article Discovery in MNCAT.

Prior to spring semester, another resource will be added to MNCAT Article Discovery: MNCAT, our current "books and more" library catalog. This blended database will be called MNCAT Discovery, and it will be the default search from the Libraries main website. We'll provide more information about the scope, relevancy, filters, and features available in MNCAT Discovery, as well as a link to the test environment, during fall semester.