Session 3 – Beyond Keywords: Introducing Facets and Other New Search Tools

3.1 Introducing Facets: Getting Specific Without Getting to Zero

BiblioCommons uses a search interface called “faceted search” to enable users to narrow-down large quantities of search results. You can narrow your result set by facets such as availability (by branch), format, topic and more. Adding and removing facets allows you to manipulate your query without having to go back and alter your search string.

You’ve probably already had the opportunity to use facets on other sites like Amazon, eBay and Futureshop. To set the context for this session, and to understand the context that our users are increasingly accustomed to in other environments on the Web, let’s actually start this session at one of those sites.

Task: See faceted search in action.

  • Go to and/or Type “computers” into the search bar.
  • Now, use the facets on the left hand side to narrow these results to all Dell, laptops, with more than 300GB hard disk. (If they have any.)

Why use facets in a library? The challenge in using most public library catalogues is hitting the right level of specificity. If users get too specific, they end up with zero search results. If they start too broad, users are forced to page through result sets that are often too large.

Traditional OPACs have always had the ability to limit large result sets with “limit to” functions. The trouble with these tools is that they are typically only offered on a few dimensions. These dimensions have fixed, finite option-sets, such as branch, language, or format. They are offered to the user whether or not those values will actually lead to results.

By contrast, facets dynamically adjust to reflect the exact possibilities of the result-set a user is viewing. You will never see a facet for Punjabi or Portuguese unless there are holdings behind those links. Facets allow users to start with a broad search, then winnow a large result set down progressively to a manageable size, without ever getting to zero results.

3.2 Starting Broad to See What’s Available for General Subject Searches

BiblioCommons’ search logs reveal that most of the catalogue subject searches (whether keyword or subject) are very broad, one or two word searches.

Users may or may not have something more specific in mind – but they typically know that they can’t get too specific, or they’ll end up with zero results.

What they’re really interested in is knowing what the library has to choose from. This is the equivalent of a visitor to the library asking to be pointed to the section where they’ll find books on knitting, and then just browsing.

Task: Use facets to narrow a general search.

  • Try one of the broad Subject searches below in both your previous catalog and on BiblioCommons.

Financial planning

  • On BiblioCommons, try using a combination of the Topic, Language and Publication Date facets to get to a single result.

3.3 Finding Available Titles in a Hurry

Task:  Use facets to find available items on a specific search.

Your patron is standing in front of you. She needs a book on outer space for her son’s Grade 5 project. And yes, the project is due tomorrow and it is 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon—no time to travel to another branch.

  • Search for “space.”
  • Narrow your results to titles that are available now at a selected branch, and are appropriate for the audience

Let’s assume, that she finds nothing of interest available at her branch – and decides she may be able to make it to another branch.

  • Remove the facet for the branch selected above and select another nearby branch

Tip: Sequencing of facets: You are best to sequence your selection of facets according to the importance of your criteria.  For example, if a patron is interested in a subject and would prefer large print books, but large print isn’t absolutely essential, narrow by topic first to find the right material and then see how many (if any) of the results are available as large print. If you instead start with “large print,” your topic selections will be limited to those available in that particular format.

3.4 Using the Language Facet… and More

Task: Compare the language to region facets.

Your patron is back, and this time she is interested in films available in French.

  • Search for “dvd.” (This returns every DVD in the catalog.)
  • Use the Form/Genre facet to narrow the results to “Feature Films.”
  • Use the By Language facet to narrow those results.  To facet to movies that are in French (not just sub-titled), check the “Primary Language” box first and then select French.

Your patron has now developed full-blown Francophilia; they are interested in all films that feature France, regardless of language.

  • Remove the By Language facet by clicking on the red-circled “X” – just above the column of facets
  • Apply the By Region facet to narrow down to only those feature films with “France” as a subject descriptor.

3.5 Cool Stuff: Introducing “Two-phased Search”

There has always been a tension in search between “precision” and “recall.” BiblioCommons easily enables both, depending on the user’s context.

Task: Compare Smart and broadened searches.

  • Do a Keyword search for “mercury”. Note the result count. Now click on Broaden your search. Note the change in the count and content of the facets. Which are more helpful?

The primary benefits of phasing search in this way is in the facets.

How does broaden your search work?

3.6 Auto-suggest – Easy Access to Your Library’s Authority Records

In previous sections we’ve discussed how BiblioCommons uses automated logic to create a smarter search reflecting patrons’ increased dependence on keyword searching. BiblioCommons also leverages the expertise of the library’s authority records to improve the search.  However, rather than isolating this authority data in an Exact or Index Search form that patrons generally don’t understand, the data is now displayed as a search aid in the quick search box – but only on Subject and Author searches.

Task:  Accessing Authority records.

  • In the quick search box do a Subject search (i.e. by using the drop down menu to select Subject) of “doctors”. As you type, note the authority terms that appear as search aids. Note that “doctors” re-directs you to “physicians”. Click on the authority term to perform the search.
  • Now do an Author search of “Westlake, D. E.”. Again, note the authority terms that appear as you type. Now click on the proper authority term for that author (i.e.  “Westlake, Donald E.”)