At the Ref Desk (5/12/20): We have entered the Age of Lookups. [more...]

Cart before Horse with Aquabrowser in Columbus

Submitted by Leo Klein on Thu, 1/24/08 (9:17am)

They recently installed the Aquabrowser at the Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML). This is how the head of IT over there explained it to the Columbus Dispatch:

"We're accommodating what people are used to seeing -- people who just want to plug in a search term and get their list." [h/t Lorcan Dempsey]

What people are "used to seeing"? That animated tag-cloud doohickey?

Unless they really do things differently in Columbus, I can't imagine anyone (other than library staff) ever seeing one of these things or knowing the least what to do with it.

I mean, you can almost predict that the color-coding of the whirlin', spinnin' topics will be totally lost on the average user. Equally as bewildering is why they bothered to include what suspiciously looks like instructions (instructions?) on the main search page that attempt to explain enigmatic terms such as "Search", "Discover" and "Refine".

Confused yet? The newspaper article quotes one user as calling it "distracting" while another thinks it may not be "as intuitive as they think it is".

Touchée. Like Second Life and the Kindle, we have the implementation of a technology that has yet to receive the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" from the public. In other words, there's no indication of widespread acceptance or adoption on the part of our users. This is precisely the wrong approach to take.

Lastly, it doesn't help that a keyword search on "Treasure Island" only turns up the book by Robert Louis Stevenson on Page 2 of the search results.

Maybe they were focusing on the wrong thing?

P.S. In contrast, check out the results for Google and Amazon.


by Margaret on Thu, 2/28/08 (12:38pm)

The first time I saw Aquabrowser I was trying to actually find an obscure pamphlet that I had reason to believe was held at the Philadelphia Free Library. All I really needed was to search the nice and simple 110 MARC field, but it took me longer than I wanted to figure out how to do this while getting hilariously irrelevant tag cloud suggestion.

by Leo Klein on Fri, 2/29/08 (7:07pm)

Thanks for the note.

It's really hard to imagine what the people who developed this were thinking.

It's not particularly effective in the way it works -- even assuming the terms were somehow (magically) related.

It's just an End-of-Nineties DotCom idea that the developers haven't yet figured out how to put to bed.

by Daniel Nguyen on Mon, 3/10/08 (10:08am)

I have a love/not-so-much-love relationship with AB myself. Aquabrowser offers some really good drill downs (format, location, author etc) in the form of refinements.

However, the word cloud is not something I'm crazy about. I think it could be useful if you don't know what you're looking for but who really knows.

by Leo Klein on Mon, 3/10/08 (10:14am)

Hi Daniel,

I agree! I love the drill downs but hate the cloud.

I think you can find some good examples of Faceted Searches that don't use the cloud.

Amazon, for one. Also, you have OPACs like the new one from the Chicago Public Library.