Serials Solutions will launch Summon 2.0, a major update of its Web-scale discovery service, expected to be available in June 2013. Summon 2.0 brings in a number of new major features, as well as optimizing some recently added capabilities. As part of the transition to Summon 2.0, Serials Solutions will make improvements to its underlying technical platform. Serials Solutions launched the genre of Web-scale, index-based search, announced in January 2009, with its first live implementation in July 2009 at Grand Valley State University.
Web-Scale, Index-Based Discovery
Summon is designed specifically for the needs of academic libraries. Serials Solutions also offers AquaBrowser, a discovery interface more oriented toward public libraries. In the category of Web-scale discovery services, Summon competes directly with Primo and Primo Central from Ex Libris, EBSCO Discovery Service from EBSCO Publishing, and OCLC's WorldCat Local. The services within this genre all aim to provide access to a broad representation of library resources at a granular level, enabled by indexes constructed in advance through metadata or full text made available by content providers.
Serials Solutions reports that Summon now indexes more than 1.1 billion unique content items. Each entry in the index represents a unique item, which involves creating composite records when duplicates are detected in multiple sources. The management of the Summon index is based on a proprietary match and merge technology, resulting in richer composite records blended from multiple sources that may each carry different data. The company indicates that more than 500 million duplicates have been merged in the current index.
Advancing Summon to a New Level
Summon 2.0 builds on the foundation of index-based search established in the original version, layering in a variety of new tools designed to assist users in the research process, beyond the basic presentation of search results. As the volume of material indexed by discovery services such as Summon expands, one of the key challenges lies in finding ways to guide the user toward the best results. Many of the new features in Summon 2.0 aim to provide additional assistance to the user by highlighting important resources or guiding the search process to improve the quality of the results relative to the topic at hand. This additional layer of assistance is accomplished through a combination of features that bring librarians into the discovery process, providing opportunities for them to engage with users in different ways.
Delivered through Software as a Service
Delivered through multitenant software as a service, Summon has continually been enhanced with new features during the four years since launch. This software delivery model allows the developer to deploy new features or fix anomalies in small incremental releases for the entire base of institutions using the product. Bug fixes can be implemented transparently. When new features become available, Serials Solutions give its customer libraries the ability to control when to activate them through the administrative console used for configuring local options. Libraries will likewise be able to manage the timing of when they make the transition to Summon 2.0, which encompasses a cluster of new capabilities and a new and enhanced user interface.
Serials Solutions, consistent with the prevailing trend in the software development industry, follows an a agile methodology, developing small units of functionality that can be fully tested and deployed in a few weeks. This approach contrasts with the traditional waterfall model where programmers address improvements throughout a complex application in a longer development and testing cycle.
New and Optimized Features
Summon 2.0 brings significant changes to the user interface. Currently, Summon is based on a two column interface, with facets and other search refinement tools presented on a narrow left column and the search results using the remainder of the page. Summon 2.0 divides the page into three columns, narrowing the results area a bit, making room for a column on the right, populated with different tools for the user according to the context of the session.
Some of the major new features in Summon 2.0 include:
Summon Topic Explorer. The initial release will include around 50,000 topics, which Serials Solutions plans to continually expand. The company also intends to cover topics in many languages, expanding beyond the English to include thousands in Chinese and German, with others added over time. Topic Explorer panes are created based on usage data mined from Summon, content from commercial and open access reference resources, and materials contributed by librarians. In addition to descriptive information and links to relevant resources, topic explorations can also include a profile of a local subject librarian available for consultation.
Summon Scholar Profiles display information about authors or researchers triggered in search queries. These profiles, based on the 3 million entries in the ProQuest Scholar Universe, contain brief biographical information about a scholar, related topics of interest, and links to specific works by or about the person.
Automated Query Expansion enhances the query entered by the user by automatically including related terms likely to bring in other relevant results. This feature assists users who may enter informal terms and may not be familiar with the all of the specialized vocabulary in a discipline. Users that want precise control of their query can disable this feature.
Summon 2.0 also includes some capabilities that were recently announced and implemented, but were less optimized given the limitations of the original interface design. Many of these were covered in the December 2012 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter.
- The database recommender, activated by trigger words or phrases in the query, highlights specific databases or other resources that the user might want to explore directly in addition to the specific items in the search results. The recommendations are based on local trigger words of phrases or those shared in common among other libraries using Summon.
- Best bets, based on trigger words in the query supplied by local librarians, activate the presentation of links to resources the library wants to feature, such as subject guides, reference resources, or specialized collections.
- Related search suggestions are presented to users dynamically as they scroll through search results offering scholarly and multilingual suggestions for query expansion and refinement.
- Integrated chat and reference widgets can be incorporated into the Summon interface, based on a set of supported services that a library may be involved with through third-party providers.
- Currently Summon spotlights image sources, which will be expanded to include other content types such as newspapers, reference material, or dissertations.
Responsive Web Design
Summon 2.0 incorporates the technique of responsive web design, in which the interface is delivered according to the capabilities of the user's device. Rather than having separate version for desktop and mobile access, services created through responsive Web design dynamically adjust to any user platform. Responsive web design is generally based on the principle of delivering the user interface in a way that is dynamically optimized for the size and capabilities of mobile devices and computers. Based on techniques such as media queries that detect device characteristics, the interface can be optimized for the limited capabilities of smartphone with fluid presentation of content appropriate to the size of the screen on the device and able to alter layout or offer additional features for more capable browsers. Users naturally benefit from responsive web design in that they always receive an interface suitable for whatever device they happen to be using. This approach also simplifies the management of applications like Summon 2.0 for libraries as they provide access to their users, avoiding the need to license or deploy a separate site or app for mobile users. Although responsive web design offers challenges for software developers, it represents an important user experience methodology as the use of smartphones and tablets increases and desktops and laptops decline.
Serials Solutions makes extensive use of usage data as it designed the interface for Summon 2.0. The new design is able to take better advantage of the screen real estate to deliver its new features, using techniques such as displaying a preview window with additional information as the user hovers over a result item.
Serials Solutions characterizes Summon as distinct from competing discovery services through its reliance on a single unified index. It does not make use of techniques such platform blending as seen in EBSCO Discovery Service or the pipes architecture in Primo for incorporating local and third-party content sources, nor does it rely in any way on federated search technologies. Serials Solutions extols the advantages of its unified index for improving the end user experience, as do its competitors describing their technology. We see significant differentiation in the technical approaches of vendors offering Web-scale discovery services.
Serials Solutions points out that the Summon interface was designed specifically to support Web-scale discovery, noting that its competitors have repurposed other products or platforms. Ex Libris, for example, initially developed Primo as a unified discovery and delivery platform to which it later added the Primo Central index; EBSCO has extended its EBSCOhost platform as the foundation for EBSCO Discovery Service. Arguments can be made for and against these differing approaches, but Serials Solutions asserts that its creation of the Summon interface specifically for Web-scale discovery allows it to offer a more powerful end-user experience, which Summon 2.0 exploits even further.
The number of libraries using Summon continues to grow rapidly, but remains behind its direct competition. According to the Automation Marketplace 2013 (Library Journal, April 1, 2013 issue), 504 libraries have implemented Summon; 1,151 libraries have implemented Ex Libris Primo, and OCLC reported that 1,683 libraries have implemented World Cat Local, including those taking advantage of the Quick Start program. Although EBSCO does not publish comprehensive numbers, more than 2,100 libraries have access to EBSCO Discovery Service.
Summon, from its inception, was designed as a discovery service delivered through a single hardware and software platform. The transition to Summon 2.0 also provides Serials Solutions with the opportunity to implement some improvements in this behind-the-scenes technology platform. The four years that Summon has been available represents a relatively long time in the life cycle of technology infrastructure components. Although the basics of the technology stack remain mostly the same, the new platform includes upgrades and optimizations that designed to maintain and improve performance levels as the use, feature set, and the content indexed continues to expand.