Getting useful quantitative data for how library users search online is difficult. The vendors who make our catalogs and discovery services often provide search logs, but that information isn’t useful for knowing how people behave after the search has been performed. After all, what someone searches for doesn’t tell us whether they found any of the results worth looking at or used the sources in their research.
A few months ago, I had an idea for how to get data on what our users were clicking on in Summon. I figured I could assign a unique, incremental value to each result in our search, and then record that value when a link is clicked. If we had that kind of data, we might start to understand our users’ behavior at a point as close as we can get to their use of our materials (without getting creepy or breaking laws).
It worked pretty well.
We’ve learned a lot about how our users interact with the Summon search results from collecting this data. You can even see a live snapshot of the data we’ve collected since last Monday, if you like1. If you’re a Summon customer, check out the latest revisions to the tracking code. You can grab the source off Github, and with a few quick changes, have it running on your setup.
Dave Pattern from the University of Huddersfield has been running the script almost as long as I have, and he’s done a nice analysis of what he learned after just a week of collecting data. (I’m sure more revelations will be forthcoming.)
GVSU and Summon at Three Years
ALA Annual, June 23, 2012
Code4Lib Midwest, July 24, 2012
- Last Monday I deployed a new version of the script that stores its data in a different format. So until I clean up the previous data, it won’t appear in the live snapshot. ↩