Eugene Barsky and I are working on a paper about how to market and teach Summon — the new discovery tool at UBC Library that was introduced in February 2011. Many of the technical and practical challenges in introducing Summon cannot be overstated, especially where academic libraries have implemented federated or meta-search solutions in the past. Frankly, so many of those tools were expensive and poorly-designed to be useful in the long term.
As a medical librarian, I’ve been experimenting with Summon and had mixed results. (What is Summon?) The idea of providing one-search for users in medicine — mostly physicians and medical students — is very difficult for me to justify (and teach). Further, it’s not appropriate in most search instances. That said, one of the benefits of Summon is the way it points users to digital content held in the library, content that includes journals, monographs and knowledge objects in the institutional repository. And — that’s a good thing.
However, the depth and breadth of Summon (potentially, 700 million records) is also a potential weakness for users, and a source of information overload. Academic librarians need to be aware that it can be confusing to use Summon unless there are compelling reasons to do so. Should it be our default search tool in the long term? [No.] I’m still trying to determine how Summon fits into my own search activities. Some of its results for medical topics are illogical and force users to re-do searches through native tools such as OvidSP MEDLINE.
Tania Alekson from Capilano University says that “….an interesting wrinkle in this discussion is the commercialization of the search process that is afforded by the design of one-search system[s]. Google has “sponsored” links and its secret algorithm and Ebsco Discovery promotes its databases above any others to an absurd level (considering the de-silofication inherent and advertised in one-search [tools].) Is Summon truly the democratic option it seems [wants] to be?”
The commercial factor notwithinstanding, one question I have is whether browsing and discovery shouldn’t be contextualized more simply. Use a subject guide. Google scholar. Academic Search Premier. Do we really want users to be searching across all those millions of records to discover something?? Whatever you decide, your recommendation should be part of a coherent teaching approach.
Another trend I noticed recently (and maybe you have, too?) is that academic libraries are starting to hire discovery librarians. I support any tool (or trend) that helps our users find what they need to do their work – but where does discovery fit into our information literacy (IL) programs exactly? How do we teach it? Or, is discovery simply part of building upon what users do already?