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Report from the InSight Initiative Summit: Leveraging Specialized Discovery Tools to Maximize User Engagement

Submitted by Caitlin Cricco, Springer Nature, New York, NY; Nadine Dexter, AHIP, Harriet F. Ginsburg Health Sciences Library, University of Central Florida–Orlando; Donna Gibson, Medical Library, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY; and Rich Lampert, Doody Consulting , Philadelphia, PA

The MLA InSight Initiative was developed to create a forum in which librarians and vendors can discuss topics of mutual interest in a collegial environment. Much of the time at InSight Initiative Summit 1, held in March, was devoted to small-group discussions of issues that both librarians and vendors regarded as challenging, with each group consisting of equal numbers of medical librarians and vendor representatives. This is the third of four articles that synthesize key points from the discussions; this one focuses on how specialized discovery tools can strengthen the user relationship.

When a determined user is able to access virtually any information resource, legitimately or not, without interacting directly with the library, how can the library develop and maintain engagement with as many users as possible? One tempting idea is that the library can offer access to tools that offer functionality beyond what Google, PubMed, and the like can, and then librarians can guide users to the tool that offers them an optimal view of appropriate information sources.

Some of the InSight Summit 1 participants questioned whether there is really a need for a new tool. Beyond the familiar standbys, products like Primo, summon, and EBSCO offer outstanding functionality for many types of searches. Also, previous attempts at federated search engines have been flawed.

To dig further, some participants thought carefully about what users would need from a great new search tool. Key requirements included:

  • saves time
  • discovers resources that users had not previously been aware of
  • has the ability to filter results in a more granular fashion
  • perhaps has a graphical display to facilitate understanding of topic relationships
  • identifies gaps in the research literature and potential areas for future publication

Relating to the industry rather than users, the most critical factor would be “some form of universal indexing,” as one of the discussion groups phrased it. It is also important to consider that results from any new search tool would need to be comprehensive and highly intelligent. While lowest common denominator or “good-enough” searches might suffice for students, researchers would need and expect something much better.

Thinking more about the intelligence of systems, participants said that a new search tool should search for images, video, and other types of nonverbal content.

To gain user engagement, the system would need to provide information beyond a simple list of links. Some of the desired features of search results would include:

  • snippets where the search result appears in context
  • information about real-time availability of a resource in that particular library
  • linkouts to clinician or researcher workflows, such as electronic medical record and learning management systems
  • facilitated interlibrary loans requests if the resource is not in the library’s collection
  • no dead ends to a search; if appropriate, the search tool should direct users to specific librarians for further assistance

Also, library branding would be important in building institutional loyalty.

Even if an ideal new search tool is developed, many participants assumed that it would be a commercial product with a substantial licensing cost. In that case, students bound for careers outside of major research and educational institutions would be ill served by getting accustomed to it. Given the realities of life in community clinical facilities, when they are practitioners, they probably would need to rely on free services such as PubMed or Google, and librarians would do well to teach these people how to optimize these “good-enough” results.

Other articles in this series cover other topics that small-group discussions focused on at the first summit: challenges of Internet protocol (IP) and proxy-based authentication, lessons learned from pirate sites, and imagining the ideal social networking site for collaboration and sharing.

MLA’s InSight Initiative is supported by the following organizations: American Psychiatric Association Publishing, Annual Reviews, BMJ Publishing, Elsevier, F1000, The JAMA Network, McGraw-Hill Education, NEJM Group, Rockefeller University Press, Springer Nature, and Wolters Kluwer.

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