Announcements about new search platforms permeated the summer library conference air like vuvuzelas at the South Africa World Cup matches. One that went beyond the announcement stage to actual implementation was LexisNexis. At the American Library Association Annual conference, LexisNexis was demonstrating its redesigned general reference services for higher education (LexisNexis Academic), public libraries (LexisNexis Library Express), and secondary schools (LexisNexis Scholastic). Note that there are other LexisNexis interfaces that are not affected by this redesign.
The new design has been in the works for 2 years and the version LexisNexis showed me in January 2010 at ALA Midwinter varies only subtly from the final iteration it released in June 2010. It is vastly more intuitive than its predecessor, which looked antiquated and required much more expert search strategy construction knowledge than most students possess.
Transparency in Action
The new interface for LexisNexis Academic surfaces LexisNexis content in a much more transparent fashion. Instead of tiny tabs at the top of the page for General, News, Legal, Business, and People, the redesigned interface for Easy Search presents searchers with six widgets for searching the news, looking up a legal case, getting company information (which redirects you to Company Dossier after you enter a company name or ticker symbol), researching countries, researching people, and a combined search option. Each widget is designed with search boxes that make the specialized content for each search type more obvious and coach students to find relevant information.
The news widget allows for searching 30 years worth of news, although not every source goes back to 1980. Source types include major world publications, newspapers, magazines, wire services, broadcast transcripts, blogs, and all news. A search for blog posts about vuvuzelas, for example, retrieved 526 mentions. You can sort results by relevance, publication date (reverse chronological order), or chronological order.
There is a limit of 1,000 for items retrieved, but no date limitation, which makes it difficult to narrow a search other than by news source. Similarly, in Country Search, you can't limit by date although you can sort by date. If you want to limit by date, Combined Search is your best bet.
The Power Search screen in LexisNexis Academic retains the single search box, the option to search with Terms & Connectors or with Natural Language, and the limit by date field. Gone is the brief explanation of how to input Boolean and proximity operators. Added is the ability to add index terms for company, industry, subject, geography, and people. Selecting sources now gives a choice of By Type or By Name. The LexisNexis game plan is to align the platform with how people search and to make its value-added indexing more visible to the ordinary researcher.
Facets for narrowing your search appear to the left of search results in both Easy and Power Search. For Help, there is a research guide wiki, which is excellent, and video tutorials. Maybe I'm too conditioned by the entertainment industry, but I found the videos to be a tad boring.
According to Alistair Morrison, director of product planning, "This interface came about through an iterative design process with multiple rounds of formal usability testing with students, as well as focus groups." It reflects a shift in what both students and librarians expect in a search interface. They assume there will be guidance and pre-processing in search strategy construction. It's more about getting directly to an answer than concentrating on search development.
The three new interfaces are very similar, designed to be familiar to users as they progress through their academic career. Said Morrison, "Those who are introduced to LexisNexis Scholastic in their high schools will find it easy to use LexisNexis Academic when they get to college." That's a somewhat futuristic statement, as Scholastic has not yet been formally launched and is installed in only a few schools. Library Express, which implemented the new platform in May 2010, is currently installed in 56 public libraries. It is available to many libraries through consortia such as Lyrasis and Midwest Collaborative for Library Services (MCLN).
LexisNexis Academic will become standard at the end of July 2010. Although at least one university that I know of is currently running both interfaces, the older one will disappear on July 30 and the new one will be the default interface. Underlying content will not change-it's the broad news coverage, U.S. and state case law and statutes, and the company information found in LexisNexis Company Dossier.
One thing you will find missing from all incarnations of LexisNexis is the Investext database. According to a LexisNexis spokesman, "Effective June 26, 2010, current and archived content from Thomson Reuters Investext is no longer available through LexisNexis services. Under a proposed new contract with Investext, LexisNexis would have been forced to offer much less content at a much higher rate. Rather than pass that cost on to customers, LexisNexis has elected to explore alternative sources for analyst research reports with the aim of securing that content as soon as possible."
Has LexisNexis scored the winning goal with this redesigned interface? It has certainly come closer than did its previous version. However, as other content aggregators release their new search platforms, their goalies could deflect this shot. For now, blow those vuvuzelas for the LexisNexis Academic redesign.