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“Library interfaces should use information literacy standards in the design.” So declared Beth German of the University of Houston during our recent webinar series on information literacy. Beth is passionate about examining transaction logs, which capture a record of how users perform their searches. She shared some ideas about how this data can help us understand the search experience, improve it, and in the process foster greater information literacy.

“What can you learn from the logs?” posed Beth. “Well, there’s a lot. One is about how well your interface works, because your implementation of your discovery service depends heavily on how you design your front interface. That is the number one thing that I think gets lost in the discussion about discovery systems.“

And the specifics? “It’s important to know what types of searches your users are doing, what kind of material your users are looking for, how often users change their search strategies, how many different times they do searches while they’re in a session,” she shared. If they’re searching for known items, “We want to know if people are just typing in call numbers or ISBNs, if they’re putting in the full citations, or authors and title. We are also interested if people are typing in library hours, or the name of a department such as ‘library information.’”

She also finds thing she’s not necessarily looking for. “You get verification that no one knows how to spell. Across the board.”

Beth explained how she puts this data to practical use. “I’m able to answer questions about how things work, and have the data to support it.  I can pull information from the transaction logs and give real-world examples of how users are searching to the instruction librarians. This gives them better ideas about the help they can provide, other than designing the search that works the best.”

Beth concluded her presentation by showing us the ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standard, in particular the items under standard 2, Access the needed information effectively and efficiently. “ This is list of the outcomes that they list out within that standard,” she pointed out, “and they’re examples of the way we can modify our interfaces that would help benefit information literacy.” She shared some specific examples, including adding drop-down lists with suggestions, and changing facets to display journal articles more prominently.

While sharing her data-driven approach, Beth also acknowledged the tension that web-scale discovery brings to librarians, and that “the biggest tension is the idea that the tools aren’t beneficial to information literacy.” We’ll wrap up our series next time, with some of our presenters’ thoughts on that issue.

If you’re interested in hearing from the presenters themselves, all webinars in the series are available for on demand viewing.  Also, register now for our upcoming session with a librarian from Wake Forest University.  We’re sure you’ll want to hear the presenter’s unique perspectives on the topic of information literacy and the Summon service.

13 Mar 2013 | Posted by Eddie Neuwirth

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