Serials Solutions (www.serialssolutions.com), a business unit of ProQuest, has released a new SaaS (Software as a Service) version of AquaBrowser, a discovery layer product, to enable more libraries to use the modern, visual interface. It launched at a breakfast event at the Public Library Association Conference in Portland, Ore., on March 25. AquaBrowser is still billed as an "inviting, easy, intuitive" interface that "meets the demands and expectations of today's web-wise user (or impatient novices) who want immediate results and relevant content from a variety of sources," according to its promotional materials. What's different in this new version is that it takes what used to be a library-run product with a la carte extras and changes it to a vendor-hosted product that has many more features included in a lower subscription price.
"We've maintained the strong suits of previous AquaBrowser products ... and designed a solution that provides a rich development framework, while eliminating the implementation, maintenance, and hosting barriers found at many libraries," explained Rob Mercer, Serials Solutions general manager. One of those barriers was the old start-up price; another was need for technical library staff members who could update and maintain the product. The SaaS model means that the library staff doesn't have to do any of that. With this hosted model, the vendor staff can do continuous upgrades, allowing the new AquaBrowser to be more accessible, flexible, and up-to-date.
The previous AquaBrowser had already allowed patrons to search easily and returned results pages that looked more like those on Amazon.com, with color, book images, and word clouds. The SaaS version incorporates a number of new features to make it even more user-centric:
- An interface for mobile devices
- LibraryThing tags, ratings, and reviews
- Incorporating two data sources (in addition to the local catalog)
- Federated search integration with subscription databases
- Embedded video clips and music from Syndetics
- "Graphical date refinement" that lets users refine results by date with graphs
- Hovering over a title in initial results to see bibliographic data without clicking through
- Display of availability by library location on initial results screen
AquaBrowser works with any major integrated library system, including open source ILSs. It uses a single search box to integrate federated searching of local electronic subscriptions. This allows users to search more of the holdings that librarians typically store in separate silos without having to understand that different resources are in different places, therefore making more of the collection visible. The product also supports multiple languages and complies with ADA/Section 508 standards for accessibility.
The price of AquaBrowser SaaS is tiered according to population served. Corrine Kuhl, Serials Solutions' discovery solutions specialist for public libraries, revealed that soon there will be a web-based form where potential buyers can input their population data and get a ballpark figure on their price. The company believes this will remove one of the barriers that can keep interested parties from exploring new tools.
Library technology expert and author Marshall Breeding had this to say about the new delivery platform: "Overall, I think that it makes great sense for Serials Solutions to offer AquaBrowser through SaaS. Serials Solutions has focused on SaaS all along as their strategic approach for delivering their products. While there may be some libraries that still demand the ability to run software on their own local servers, I'm seeing SaaS deployment as increasingly accepted by libraries. It saves them the burden of operating local servers."
At the launch breakfast, Kuhl explained some of the thinking behind the product development. She reminded attendees that most people just want to find answers with keywords and a couple of clicks, and cited research that claimed that, if a starter-search is unsuccessful, 60% of users never do a second search. Instead, they're likely to default to Google or something with which they're very comfortable. "We"re just never going to change user behavior," Kuhl acknowledged.
Hence, the simple AquaBrowser search that allows results from many collections to be returned in one place, with the added help of "Did you mean?" suggestions and clouds of related words to help visual learners. Another feature that makes this product more like non-library tools is having 60 million tags, one million reviews, and eight million ratings from LibraryThing to allowing social-networking types of user interactions. All of this, Kuhl suggested, gives users a "better perception of your library."
Also at the launch event, satisfied customer Carolyn Anthony, director of Skokie (Ill.) Public Library, told listeners about her experience with choosing and implementing AquaBrowser. When searching for a discovery layer product, Skokie's short wish list consisted of these items:
1. Ease of use
2. Good relevance ranking
3. Can integrate with website and catalog
4. Can integrate journals and other electronic collections
Anthony explained that AquaBrowser met all the criteria and passed the tests of staff members (and their siblings and children) who tried it out.
One thing she strongly recommended for choosing any such patron product is to watch how they use it and interact with it. You can ask testers what they think, but they won't always tell the truth (because they're not able to understand or articulate it). But when you watch what they actually do with a product, you'll understand their usage tendencies much better. Anthony claimed that, even though she has not quantitatively measured user satisfaction, anecdotal data indicates that her patrons like AquaBrowser's simplicity and that they're doing successful searches.