Implications of Default Search Options in Ejournal Platforms

In my last post, I reviewed a handful of ejournal platforms (and one ebook platform) to see what default options were available that affected whether the search results would show all content or only the content the library had licensed or purchased. I also wanted to see which platforms let the user change the settings for available content. There were some platforms that I think did this the right way by letting the subscribing library choose what the default search mode would be and by also giving users the option to override that default at the search page and on the results pages. Only JSTOR and Project MUSE offer this kind of flexibility. At the other end of the spectrum of flexibility and usability were platforms where neither the library nor the user could change the default settings that were set to show all content (Wiley Online Library is like that).

There are a range of platforms in the middle where the user can change the search mode to include only licensed content. A few vendors like this have communicated by various means (on posts in the ERIL mailing list or in support tickets back to me) that users tell them they want to see all the content or that some subscribing libraries prefer it to be that way. I find it a bit galling that some vendors disdain letting their customers choose what’s best for their own community (i.e., letting the subscribing library make that decision about search defaults based on what is known about the users in that community). User preferences at a large research institution (especially the preferences of the faculty and graduate students) are unlikely to be same as those of students at a community college or a small 4-year school. If anyone is going to have an understanding of those local user preferences, it’s going to be the subscribing library, not the vendor.

It’s worth taking a moment to consider the pros and cons for making all the content visible on these platforms. If the default setting shows users everything, they can avail themselves of the link resolver in the interface to track down full text (on the off chance the library has it elsewhere). If the link resolver fails to find the full text elsewhere, it should present the user with an interlibrary loan option, which would likely satisfy many users (except those who are in too much of a rush or can’t be bothered with the process). On the other hand, link resolvers can be unreliable and fail to lead users to content that the library may actually have. Furthermore, some platforms won’t even let you integrate your link resolver into the interface or they way that they let you do that is poorly done. In the article record view on some platforms, the link resolver button or link is minimized at the expense of the publisher’s own set of buttons and options to purchase the article (one can wonder about the intentions of vendors in making some of these design decisions that prioritize purchase options). No librarian is happy when a reference interaction starts off with the user saying, “I found an article on your database and now it’s asking me to pay $55 for it.”

At this point, some of you may be wondering why I’m making such a big deal out of platforms that most users only find themselves on temporarily. Users will find a record for the article in a discovery service or in an aggregator database and then wind up on the ejournal platform after a series of clicks on a link resolver (or a direct link if they’re lucky). After the user has found the full text and acted on it (read it, downloaded it, decided it wasn’t worth bothering with, etc.), they are more likely to go back to the discovery service or the aggregator database to continue their searching. It is far less likely that a user who has gone that last mile to get to the full text would then start new searches there.

With respect to the array of database options that an academic library can display on their website via an A-Z databases page, it is not uncommon for that library to skip listing all of the ejournal platforms, especially if the number of journals they actually have on a given platform is small (ejournal holding are likely to be accessible via A-Z journals pages, link resolvers, and catalog records). So it’s not like the users are going directly to these ejournal platforms in droves to begin the search process (some exceptions to this are JSTOR and ScienceDirect, which are well known by users and commonly featured on A-Z database lists on the library website).

Despite the fact that our users may not be spending that much time on these ejournal platforms, let alone consciously deciding to go there after viewing a list of database options on a A-Z list, these platforms really should offer more customization to the user and to the subscribing library.

Options and Defaults for Showing Only Licensed Content in Ejournal Platforms

Depending on the interface and system you’re talking about and depending on the user type you’re talking about (the casual searcher who needs just one or two sources quickly or the dogged searcher who needs an expansive search set), it’s an interesting question about how to handle default search options that control whether results show all possible results or just those your library has immediate access to (via subscriptions and purchases). In time that I’ve been a librarian (since 1999), academic libraries typically offer their users:

  • a catalog that only shows the library’s collections (or maybe a union collection where materials can easily be requested and quickly delivered)
  • A&I databases that rely on link resolvers to get to full text where possible and ILL services where access is not available
  • aggregator databases that pull together full text content from lots of different publishers and may also include records where only abstracts are available
  • ejournal collections from various publishers where all or part of the collection has been subscribed to or purchased

Added to that mix are discovery services that try to bring together records from the catalog and records for articles that the library has full text access to. Commonly, those discovery services will also let the user change the search mode to find article records for which the library has no full-text access. In most cases, libraries can go into administrative options for their discovery services and aggregator databases and set default search settings that control whether search results show all content or just the content the user has full-text access to. Typically, the search interfaces give the user a way to override the defaults at the search box (sometimes at the basic search box, more often only at the advanced search box) or on the search results pages.

The search systems used by ejournal collections, though, seem to offer libraries and their users far less control over default search setting or the ability to refine search to only available content. In this post, I want to review some of the ejournal platforms (and some ebook platforms) we have at Baruch College and spotlight the ones that give librarians who administer these systems and searchers who use them a measure of control over what should appear in the search results.

Cambridge Core

Admin options: Subscribing libraries have no way in the admin options or by submission of a support request to change the default search to show only results for available content.

User options: Checkbox main search page to limit to “Only content I have access to.” Same checkbox also shown at top of facets on search results pages.

Cambridge Core search screen showing checkbox

Cambridge Core search screen showing checkbox

Emerald Insight

Admin options: No way to change default search behavior.

User options: Only the advanced search page and the search results pages offer a way to “Include” “only content I have access to.”

Emerald Insight advanced search screen showing "Include" option

Emerald Insight advanced search screen showing “Include” option

JSTOR

Admin options: I don’t recall how we set this up (maybe via a support ticket) but we were able to set defaults to only show available content.

User options: Advanced search page and search results pages let you change the “Access type” from the default “Read and download” option to “All content.”

JSTOR "access type" options on the advanced search page

JSTOR “access type” options on the advanced search page

Oxford Handbooks Online

Admin options: There isn’t a way in the admin options or by means of a support request to change the default, which shows all content.

User options: The search results page is the only way to change from the default of showing all content to just the “unlocked” content.

Oxford Handbooks Online search results page with availability options

Oxford Handbooks Online search results page with availability options

Oxford Journals

Admin options: There isn’t a way in the admin options or by means of a support request to change the default, which shows all content.

User options: No way to just see content the library has.

Oxford Reference

Admin options: Same interface as Oxford Handbooks Online (but different URL). By default, search results limited “By Availability” to “Unlocked” and “Free” content. I don’t know how this get set up (it’s not an admin option).

User options: The search results page is the only way to change from the default of showing all content to just the “unlocked” content.

Oxford Reference checkboxes to "Narrow Your Choices" "By Availability"

Oxford Reference checkboxes to “Narrow Your Choices” “By Availability”

Project MUSE

Admin options: By default, we have it set to show “Access” to “Only content I have full access to.” We had to submit a support request to get this set up.

User options: The advanced search screen and the search results page give the user the checkbox to change the default setting and show all content.

Project MUSE search screen showing "Access" option

Project MUSE search screen showing “Access” option

ScienceDirect

Admin options: There isn’t a way in the admin options or by means of a support request to change the default, which shows all content.

User options: The advanced search screen offers a checkbox to “Refine your search” to “Subscribed publications.”

ScienceDirect advanced search screen showing limiter for "subscribed publications"

ScienceDirect advanced search screen showing limiter for “subscribed publications”

SpringerLink

Admin options: There isn’t a way in the admin options or by means of a support request to change the default, which shows all content.

User options: Advanced search screen and search results page offer a checkbox where you can turn the choice to “Include Preview-Only content.”

SpringerLink option to deselect checkbox to "Include Preview-Only content"

SpringerLink option to deselect checkbox to “Include Preview-Only content”

Wiley Online Library

Admin options: There isn’t a way in the admin options or by means of a support request to change the default, which shows all content.

User options: None.

What’s Next

In my next post, I’ll summarize what I found from this quick survey of ejournal platforms and talk about the pros and cons of making all content visible.

Selecting All Results on a Page of Search Results

I’ve been wondering about the pros and cons of having a search results page that lets the user select all the items on the page (so they can be saved, exported, etc.) A quick survey of some major database platforms, discovery services, and our catalog shows that this feature is not available in every interface:

Interfaces that have it:

  • EBSCOhost
  • Factiva
  • LexisNexis Academic
  • Primo (current UI)
  • ProQuest
  • Web of Science

Interfaces that don’t have it:

  • Ex Libris Aleph
  • EBSCOhost
  • JSTOR
  • Gale
  • Primo (including new UI)
  • ScienceDirect
  • Summon

I’m not sure if this is necessarily a bad thing for an interface to be missing the “select all items” function. I suspect that usage of this feature might vary by tool (article databases vs. discovery layers vs. traditional catalog interfaces). Should we be clamoring for this function across all tools? Some of them? None of them? Is it too much of an expert searcher tool to bother with (or to bother with in some tools?)

I realize that to answer these questions conclusively would require access to usage data we don’t necessarily have (how many users clicked on the feature in the interfaces where it’s an option) and observational data (from interviews, usability testing, etc.). I’m curious about what others think about this feature.

UPDATE 12 October 2016: Thanks to folks on the Primo mailing list, I realized I was wrong about Primo not offering the feature. The current UI does but the new one doesn’t. A librarian on the ERIL list pointed out that EBSCOhost lets you add all items on the page if you first go to the “Share” button. I’ve updated the post to reflect these corrections.