Personalized Search or Drone?

Richard Nurse’s blog post on “full library discovery” caught my attention on two levels. First was recognition. When discussing “full library discovery” my first thought was of the University of Alabama’s library search feature Scout. Scout, while it may not go as far as “full library discovery” as I am not sure if it pulls information from libguides and study aids, allows users to search across the catalog, journals, and even databases. I’ve used it a little myself, but I often find that what it gains in recall it lacks in precision making it less useful than other finding aides.

The other point that resonated with me is the question of how personalized should searches become. If users have to log-in to  a system how much should search results be personalized and in what ways? The examples given come from an academic background and involve returning items used in previous years, by successful students, etc. I think I’ve seen and read too many science fiction stories to believe that guiding and controlling search results will lead to a best outcome. On the other hand having a best search system which highlights the most common or “useful” sources could save users a great deal of time. As mentioned in the comments of the post, I think the most important aspect of modified or personalized search results is making sure the user knows that the search has been edited and giving them the power to perform an unlimited search.

So how do these two revelations fit together? I think it comes to transparency in search results; what is highlighted and what is hidden. In a “full library search” there are often items that are not searched. I know there are several databases that I often use for my research that are not searchable via Scout. Likewise in a personalized search some sources will be excluded. Finding some sort of medium is vital and making sure that the user knows what is available both upfront and what might be hidden under another search layer is just good Librarianship.