Google changed everything. Searching for the best apple pie recipe? Google it. Looking for a video of penguin feeding time? Google it. Driving directions to Disneyland? Google that, too. And all in the same search box. User expectations continuously change as technology advances, creating a challenge for libraries to evolve with them. But the Tri-University Group of Libraries (TUG), a Canadian consortium comprised of the University of Guelph, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University libraries, is doing just that.
Primo customers since 2007, the TUG Libraries originally adopted the discovery layer because of its modern interface and the vast customization options that it enables. “We like to have control. The ability to test, deploy, and customize everything on a staging server ourselves benefits us,” explains Alison Hitchens, Cataloguing & Metadata Librarian at University of Waterloo.
With access to the Primo Back Office, libraries can tweak the ranking parameters for specific types of content within their collections. For instance, staff can configure boosting factors by placing weight on the search term’s location within a record. As a result, libraries can optimally blend local collections with results from the Primo Central Index, thus ensuring visibility of materials that are significant to the library.
While many libraries in the Primo community have embraced Primo’s out-of-the-box configuration, the TUG Libraries have pushed the envelope by customizing both the end-user interface and the search functionality. As part of this effort, the consortium conducted a series of usability studies to determine how their patrons use the software and what the library can tweak to optimize the user experience.
One study, led by Randy Oldham, Web Development Librarian at the University of Guelph, tested the hypothesis that users prefer a single search box that searches across all resource types. He discovered that if a patron is looking for a specific resource type or location, they need a quick way to narrow the search. Spending two minutes in Primo’s Back Office, Oldham adjusted the facet order to help users focus on the most relevant materials more efficiently.
As a result of the usability studies, all three libraries decided to use a single search box to search across all resource types, with separate tabs for books and articles—a layout preferred by an overwhelming majority of students.
The TUG Libraries’ shared search box illustrates how consortium member libraries can choose which configurations they want to share and which they don’t. “Primo’s customization potential allows each member institution to have different configuration for some things, while having the same configuration for other things. This allows for unique local customizations that meet each institution’s unique needs, while still providing a very similar look and feel for patrons across institutions,” explains Oldham. This emphasis on local control was a great benefit to Dillon Moore of Laurier, who wanted more opportunity for local testing before going live with Primo Central. “Primo’s flexibility allowed Laurier to launch Primo [Central] at an opportune time for us, rather than forcing us to be in lock-step with our TUG partners,” noted Moore.
But beyond sharing resources and technology, Primo also enables member institutions to share staff. In the case of the TUG Libraries, this meant that web specialists were able to take on the majority of the front-end work for all three libraries, while two cataloguing librarians took ownership of much of the metadata work across the institutions. “The TUG Libraries have a long and successful tradition of working together to get things done. The ability to define different staff roles in Primo fits the way that we work,” says Hitchens. This “divide and conquer” strategy allows the consortium to use valuable staff resources more efficiently.
Primo hands the reins back to libraries so they have the power to control how, where and what their users find. How would you customize your discovery layer if you had this flexibility?