One of the most popular discovery engines—Summon from Serials Solutions, a ProQuest company—should be getting even more popular this summer. A new, substantially enhanced version will begin replacing the current version—and at no extra charge. Most of the major changes focus on enriching the searching experience by adding contextual guidance through such services as Topic Explorer, Scholars Profiles, automatic addition of supplementary search terms, etc. Librarians using Summon play a role in improving the service both directly through contributions for their particular patron communities and indirectly by sharing input with the Summon user community. The mammoth size of Summon (now more than 1.1 billion items, usually full text) and its breadth of coverage as a unified index not only provides a major service for libraries seeking to retain their hold on patrons, it also provides ProQuest with a centralized, core database around which to build future products and service improvements.
In announcing the upgrade, Serials Solutions eschewed any false humility. They are clearly very proud of their service and consider it “best-of-class” and claim the status of “industry firsts” for many of the improvements in Summon 2.0. Summon is already used by more than 500 libraries in more than 40 countries. Though the Summon 2.0 service marks the first major upgrade since the service’s introduction in 2009, the practice and policy of improving the service has affected hundreds of enhancements over the years. Matt Reidsma, web services librarian at Grand Valley State University Libraries, one of the first libraries to subscribe to Summon, reports that upgrades, including features, appear about every 2 weeks. Nevertheless, Reidsma considers the Summon 2.0 upgrade will be “huge” in its effect.
Serials Solutions conducts usability research, data analysis, and direct customer feedback response regularly. An agile development methodology supports improvements to the software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud product. John Law, vice president of discovery services at Serials Solutions, stated, “Through ongoing usability studies, analyzing usage data from hundreds of millions of Summon searches, and by listening to our customers—top research libraries across the world—we’ve learned a lot about how users do research. Summon 2.0 leverages this knowledge to meet users’ needs while elevating the value of librarians and the library in the research process.”
Key features in Summon 2.0 include the following:
- Streamlined, modern interface, designed to feel familiar to users of such open websites as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- Topic Explorer panes—50,000 topics to guide users in the right direction and advise them on how to approach a subject search. German and Chinese language topics will appear at launch with other languages on the way.
- Scholar Profiles—3.1 million profiles for key authors and researchers, based on the ProQuest Scholar Universe in ProQuest’s Pivot service, and adapted to promote exploration and collaboration and author disambiguation
- Automated Query Expansion to boost relevant retrieval and, through display of the added terms, educating users on terminology. Users can, however, turn it off if they don't want help.
- Content Spotlighting—visually distinguishes search results to categories such as images, newspaper articles, and reference materials
Some of the improvements announced as part of Summon 2.0 have appeared before, such as:
- Search Suggestions to encourage exploration of related concepts
- Recommended Librarians and Research Guides to connect users to librarians and library generated resources in context of their queries
- Best Bets and Database Recommendation—let libraries impact results to instruct and guide users to recommended resources and information
- Reference Chat—drag and drop chat window encourages users to interact with librarians at the point of need. It can also handle notifications of unavailability or switches to off-campus chat sources, depending on library arrangements. This is only one of the integrated chat widget options offered.
As we all know, one of the primary interface problems that vendors face today involves dealing with the different sizes of different device types that support mobile computing. Summon 2.0 designers have used responsive design techniques to optimize for use with any device, whether desktop, tablet, or smartphone, without loss of functionality.
The field of discovery engines for the library market is intensely competitive. Major Summon rivals are EBSCO Discovery Services (EDS) and Ex Libris’ Primo Central. Many claims are made about Summon in both the current and 2.0 versions tabbed as “only library discovery service to …” Such claims attach to features such as Topic Explorer, recommendation services, Scholars Profiles, etc. To summarize its attitude toward rivals, Serials Solutions stated, “Other discovery services are built on existing database platforms and next-generation catalogs, and therefore have limitations on the design and functionality that can be offered. (The EBSCOhost user interface which supports EDS was last updated 5 years ago—2008 and sits on the EBSCOhost platform which is even older. While Ex Libris Primo is still largely based on the original next-generation catalog design that is from 2006-2007.)”
As much as we journalists all love to watch a fight, I cannot do a point-by-point comparison or rating of the leading discovery services. However, an independent consultant experienced with all the major discovery services, commented:
Any given vendor will characterize its own products in a positive light relative to its competitors. Serials Solutions Summon does have many strengths, and this new version extends those even further. I’m still working through the new features to settle in my mind how transformative the new version is. It seems to me as incremental improvements, but it is positioning it as a major upgrade. That said, both EDS and Primo/Primo Central are also very successful products, with strengths in different areas. Primo, for example, provides a much more customizable interface and gives libraries full control over the way that data sources are incorporated into the index. If you have seen one Summon or EDS installation, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Not so with Primo where there have been many quite differentiated implementations. EBSCO has been quite successful in extending and leveraging its platform. EBSCOhost has a deep penetration into libraries for the delivery of EBSCO’s own databases and full-text products, and EDS especially appeals to libraries whose patrons are accustomed and comfortable with that interface.
One of the key measures to me lies in the relative success in the numbers of libraries adopting the products. But it’s especially tricky to measure. Ex Libris reports more installations for Primo than Serials Solutions does for Summon. But the Primo numbers include the various combinations of libraries that use the Primo interface, those with the Primo Central Index, and those that use Primo Central via MetaLib. EBSCO does not report the numbers of sales of EDS, but my informal understanding is that EDS is in many more libraries than Primo or Summon.
These numbers do not reflect a clear superiority of Summon, but rather that it is a competitive market in which Serials Solutions is working very hard to improve its market position, which is weaker than expected given its early entry and various interface and technical merits.
Another factor may be in play here. ProQuest is the only one of the three competitors with a major product aimed at completing the journey of scholarly data into the workplace—namely the end-user Udini product. Law described the future goals of ProQuest as serving the “whole lifecycle or ecosystem of knowledge workers from early education to graduate education to the professional world.” He pointed to how much curated but open access Summon reached, even the Internet Movie Database, Wikipedia, and other open web reference sources.
For a detailed description of the new features and interface, check out serialssolutions.com/en/services/summon/summon-2.0. Reidsma reported that Grand Valley State University provides a searchable open door to its version of Summon. Just go to gvsu.edu/Library and search the box at the top of the screen. When they move to Summon 2.0, the open door will still be swinging. Reidsma expected Summon libraries to be able to opt-in to the upgrade in the summer before the final “All Aboard” by the end of the year.