During 2015, the University of Oxford carried out an extensive consultation exercise, to determine the requirements for future discovery services. This has now completed its work, and we can now make a public version of the project final report available. The whole document is attached to this post, and what follows is a brief overview.
What We Did
- 113 interviews (users and potential users of Oxford’s collections; experts employed by the university; other institutions around the world; vendors, publishers and other service providers)
- 18 site visits
- 3 literature reviews
This project conducted 113 interviews, 18 site visits, and 3 literature reviews in order to discover requirements of users at Oxford and understand the broader landscape of resource discovery. Through analysis of the data across all of these areas, a significant and nuanced understanding of current and future trends in resource discovery has emerged.
What We Know
Search behaviour & skills at Oxford are:
- very discipline-specific. This is not a matter of Google vs the Catalogue.
- not as simple as ‘novice’ vs ‘expert’. Experts in their fields use some of the the same discovery techniques as young students when they switch to a new discipline.
- about training people to become expert in their field, rather than finding things in the collections.
- as much about knowing who to ask as it is about looking for something specific
- still a very ‘analogue’ process for many collections
Search behaviour & skills at Oxford are not:
- tied to a specific discovery tool – Google is heavily used, but by no means universal
- correlated to a specific age or discipline – ‘digital natives’ are universally bad at searching regardless of their field
What It Means / What We Can Do
Mapping the Landscape of Things
Expertise in a domain requires two things: an understanding of the parameters of your domain and an understanding of the available and relevant resources in those areas. ‘Experts’ have varying levels of confidence about their mastery of these domains, but all seem to have a clear sense of its ‘borders’. Therefore, resource discovery should be about helping people to find and define these borders. Some projects that would do this might include:
- Visualizing the scope of the collections at Oxford. Using collection-level metadata, provide an interactive diagram that represents the range of collections at Oxford.
- Cross collection search. Taking existing metadata from across the collections, use a Lucene-based technology such as Elasticsearch to index and expose the existing item-level metadata.
Mapping the Landscape of People
Asking people, and knowing who to ask, seems to make the difference between simply finding what you need to complete and assignment and becoming an expert researcher. Therefore the recommendation is:
- Create a directory of expertise at Oxford. The current researcher collaboration tool project, run by Research Services, aims to provide a directory of research and expertise. Ideally, this project should be built with an open and flexible framework in order to further enable:
- Visualization of the network of experts and research. A graph of the professional networks at Oxford would facilitate discovery and navigation within and between fields.
- Connect people, resources, and events. Providing a reliable source for upcoming talks by division or subject area would be heavily used and well-received.
Supporting Researchers’ Established Practices
- Getting existing metadata out to the places where many researchers work. Exposing metadata for indexing by Google and Google Scholar would undoubtedly assist those who start their searches on the open web.
- Investigate methods to facilitate citation-chaining, which is ubiquitous across all disciplines.
Laying the Foundations
- Shared discovery will necessitate shared infrastructure of systems, people, and policy.
- Collections cannot be discovered using electronic search tools unless they have some sort of representative electronic description.
- Investment in analytics and data infrastructure to support evidence-based decision-making across the collections is essential for assessing the impact of current and future tools.
- Collaboration within the University and with partner institutions around the world is essential to providing innovative solutions for discovery.
These activities should be guided and supported by establishing an interdisciplinary research group to take forward the recommendations of the report.
This research group should ensure investment in the analytics and data infrastructure to support evidence based decision making across the collections.
The Academic Services and University Collections (ASUC) should investigate the creation of a ‘Collections @ Oxford’ portal.
Activities will be integrated with other potential or actual projects, notably the researcher collaboration tool project, the Oxford Linked Open Data project, and a platform for digitized content throughout the University.
The Good News
There are things that the Museums and Libraries do really well:
- Subject specialists are incredibly highly regarded
- When they are found, the resources the subject experts create are really valued