Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, February 10, 2011

MLibrary launches ArticlesPlus to ease search for online content

MLibrary has introduced ArticlesPlus, a new discovery tool to quickly find articles and other online library content via a single search box.

The tool, which can be accessed by clicking on the ArticlesPlus tab in the search window at www.lib.umich.edu, makes MLibrary's wealth of materials more findable than ever, says Scott Dennis, U-M humanities librarian.

Dennis has spent a lot of time introducing ArticlesPlus to colleagues, faculty and students. He is coordinator of Core Electronic Resources and was a member of the working group that recommended the new technology. He also served on the implementation team, and is a member of the group assessing its benefits.

"We expected undergraduates to really like it," Dennis says, "and they really do."

As for faculty, he had assumed they would continue to favor the more complex but precise search interfaces on discipline-specific databases, and would resist both the newness and the broadness — the very Google-like quality that appeals to undergrads — of ArticlesPlus.

But in testing with faculty members, Dennis learned that while the ArticlesPlus search is indeed broad, the most relevant results tend to rise to the top. And because the search encompasses scholarly as well as general-interest resources, ArticlesPlus is proving particularly useful to scholars working across disciplines, and in areas that engage with popular culture.

Ken Varnum, MLibrary Web systems manager, explains the difference between the underlying mechanisms of Search Tools, MLibrary's older (and still available) finding tool, and ArticlesPlus.

"Search Tools and ArticlesPlus have somewhat similar front-end interfaces," Varnum says. "The big difference is in what happens after you enter your search term." Search Tools performs a so-called "broadcast search," in which a query is sent simultaneously to a number of databases external to MLibrary. The time it takes to return results is largely dependent upon the slowest of these external databases.

There are a number of disadvantages to this method, chief among them speed.

ArticlesPlus uses a service called Summon to search a single unified index, and because it is integrated with MLibrary's subscriptions and services, scholars have ready access to a resource if the full text is available online, or can request delivery service or check Mirlyn for an electronic or print copy.

Summon is used in a growing number of research libraries, and while MLibrary's ArticlesPlus implementation is unique — it uses a custom interface, rather than the one supplied by the vendor — it may not remain so for long.

Varnum says there are plans in the works to share the ArticlesPlus Drupal module with other libraries, in keeping with MLibrary's efforts to build a more open ecosystem.