Word on the Street


Just How Customizable is Your Discovery Service?

This past week Barbara Quint of Information Today wrote a great article describing some of the exciting things coming soon to the Summon service—including more opportunities for librarians to directly impact and engage in the discovery experience.  The streamlined Summon 2.0 interface and new features will offer libraries even more control over recommendations and the ability to provide customized contextual guidance to users at the moment they most need help.

However, we wish to correct a statement made by an anonymous consultant quoted in the article which said, “If you’ve seen one Summon installation you’ve pretty much seen them all.”  We strongly believe many of the libraries using Summon would disagree with that statement, and any statement that Summon is not customizable.  Dozens of libraries are doing really innovative and creative things with the Summon service. Some Summon installations are so customized it may be difficult for someone to even realize that they’re seeing the Summon service in action.

Customizations done by libraries using the Summon service come in all shapes, sizes and colors, but trend along a few different lines: completely custom interfaces, integrations with other custom user interfaces, and a variety of tweaks of functionality within the Summon interface.  Examples of just some of these customizations can be seen at the following library sites which are open to anyone to search:

Completely Custom Interfaces

Integrations with Open Source Interfaces

Integrations with Custom Landing Pages

These are only a handful of examples of how the Summon service can be creatively tailored to fit each library’s vision for what they want a discovery service to be.

The Summon service offers libraries far more flexibility and customization options than other discovery services and makes customization far easier to achieve for any library regardless of staff size and resources.   This is possible because the Summon service is a built to purpose discovery engine that revolves around a single unified index of content and relies on a powerful API that is inherent to the service.

As discussed in more detail in my previous blog post “Considering the user experience is critical when evaluating discovery services” many libraries don’t realize that the “out-of-the-box” Summon user interface is built using the Summon API (which Jonathan Rochkind noted “was by far the easiest to work with, most consistent, and most flexibly powerful” of discovery service APIs he reviewed).  This allows libraries using the service to integrate Summon results within any custom interface or application.  It also means that just about all of the innovative new features and functionalities built into Summon (and rolled out every 3-4 weeks) are also available to any library who wishes to include them in their own custom interfaces. 

Summon is offered via a Software as a Service (SaaS) model which enables libraries to build their own custom interfaces or feed Summon results into custom applications without need for investing in massive amounts of local hardware, developers or staff time.  Libraries who do invest the time and resources to customize an interface have the added benefit of always being on the most current version of the Summon service –without having to re-implement or rebuild their customizations.

Beyond the Summon API, our web-based administration console provides libraries using our “out of the box” interface with a number of options to customize their Summon user experience.  And all changes made via the administration console appear live in the Summon interface seconds after they are made.  Among other things, the Summon administration console allows libraries to:

Libraries also have control over database recommendations and Best Bets recommendations that allow them almost limitless opportunities to customize the user experience in an interactive way and provide direct guidance that is contextual to a user’s query.     

The Summon service not only offers an easier path than other discovery services for customizing the user experience, it inspires libraries to get creative.  In addition to the libraries mentioned above that have extensively customized the Summon user experience, a number of libraries are injecting new functionality into the Summon user experience with creative “hacks” and innovative developments.  And some libraries are using the Summon API to integrate Summon functionality into other web pages and services.  Some examples of these types of customizations include:

  • University of Huddersfield allows users to build reading lists from the Summon service and use Summon to search within specific journals and provides a recommendations service to show users popular articles and journals related to their queries with custom functionality developed using the Summon API.
  • Chalmers University of Technology delivers a variety of unique scoped searches using the Summon API in their redesigned website.
  • St. Thomas University exploits a custom link field in the Summon administration console to integrate a custom pop-up chat window.
  • University of Florida uses the same link field to integrate a custom search of its statewide union catalog.
  • Université Rennes changes icons, modifies colors and adds custom messages to the interface – all without major development work or programming.

While there are far too many examples of customizations of the Summon service to mention them all, we’re proud to deliver a service that allows libraries the true flexibility to deliver the search experience they desire for their users.  We’re also very happy about the vast number of libraries who have implemented the Summon service without making any substantial customizations.   These libraries understand that the Summon user interface has been designed expressly to meet the needs and expectations of today’s users.

The Summon service is different than other library discovery services – it’s not a repurposed next-generation catalog nor is it a repurposed database platform.  Inspired by research examining user behaviors, the Summon interface is optimized for academic research.  It can return hundreds of millions of results (from a unified index of over 1.1 billion items) in less than a few seconds and it provides intuitive facets and other contextual features designed specifically to make it easy for users to scan and navigate through results.   But we understand that we must keep innovating to keep pace with ever-changing user expectations.  That’s why we’ve introduced Summon 2.0—to offer an even better user experience and provide more opportunities and flexibility for libraries to customize the Summon service to their needs.  Stay tuned for more updates about Summon 2.0