The Best Search Box Ever.

I’ve just made a little Windows 7 Gadget for our library.  It’s a nifty little tool that allows a library search to sit on the user’s desktop, providing immediate access to library resources, even when the library website is not pulled up in the browser.  The Gadget itself isn’t innovative, though – it’s the search box in it.

Here is how we’ve designed our search:

  • Default search option is “Discovery,” which searches our instance of EBSCO Discovery Search, pre-limited to “in the library collection”
  • Our search listens for stop words like “hours,” “databases,” “JSTOR,” and “Noodlebib” – and instead of doing a discovery search for those terms, it takes users to the resource they were actually looking for.
  • It also listens for format modifiers.  So if I type in “globalization ebooks”, I’m going to get ebooks about globalization, not anything in discovery search that has those two terms in it.
  • Blank searches return intelligent results.
  • Finally, it uses LibAnswers to provide autocomplete, so if they ARE typing in a “research help” query and not a topical query, LibAnswers will suggest various pages in our FAQs.

Here’s a video of it in action (best viewed full screen).

Defaulting to Discovery

Very early in the design process for our website, we decided that the default search for our home page should be our Discovery Search, and that the results should be limited to those things that provided students with instant gratification… in other words, those materials that are available online through one of our databases or the physical collection.  We’re not trying to compete with Google, but we want to make solid, library resources more accessible.  We know students are going to search Google first; we just want to make sure that if they give the library search a shot, it doesn’t scare them away with a million articles only available through Interlibrary Loan or asking them to select a specific database or subset of results.

Stop Words

After a few months of tracking what searches came through our search box, we identified frequently used search terms that were likely resulting in failed searches.  For example, “jstor” appeared multiple times, and what searchers ended up at was a list of articles, books, videos that mentioned JSTOR in the metadata for some reason.  The listing was incomprehensible, and didn’t take users to our JSTOR subscription.  So, our search box pays attention for stop words that we define based on the top searches.  Now, “jstor” takes a user right to the JSTOR landing page.

Other stop words include:

  • apa
  • mla
  • s&p
  • hoover’s
  • hours
  • databases
  • ebooks
  • videos
  • noodlebib
  • …and more

We periodically review the search logs to determine if there are new trends in searching to pay attention to.

Format Modifiers

In a recent usability test of EBSCO Discovery Service, when asked to find books about politics and elections, users typed in “elections politics books”.  EDS returned a short list of journal articles ABOUT elections, politics, and books along with some book reviews.  So, we decided to add listeners for formats.  Now, when someone types in globalization ebooks, the “ebooks” term triggers a “Did You Mean…” page that re-constructs the search without the format term, and instead setting a format limiter.

Blank Searches

In the next round of search log analysis, we noticed that the blank search was frequently used.  Users would select “ebooks” from the dropdown menu and enter in nothing into the search box.  EBSCO discovery search would return all of our eBooks in a massive results set.  Instead, we redirect this blank search to our eBook collections.  The same goes for our catalog search, etc.

LibAnswers Autocomplete

Being hesitant to add a third search box to the screen (the second one near the top is mandated by our campus web), I was thrilled to find a way to make LibAnswers autocomplete our search box.  If users begin to type a word that matches an answer in our LibAnswers FAQ system, suggestions pop up below the search box, providing quick access to answers about using the library, doing research, and other reference and instructional materials.

The Best Search Box Ever

I will be user testing this soon, but the first student I showed it to flipped out (in a good way).  She was thrilled to be able to type in anything and get exactly what she wanted, whether her search was about the library or about a topic she was trying to research.  The fact that it was in a Gadget she could mount on her desktop added extra “wow” factor.

I’ll post soon on user testing, and I’m getting some support from LibAnswers to implement this on our website home page, not just the Gadget… but it looks like this next iteration of our search box is a winner by many counts.

The website and the search Gadget at CC-BY 3.0 licensed, so feel free to steal and edit – and let me know if you did!

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One Response to The Best Search Box Ever.

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