Final report

December 16, 2010

The final report of this project is now available from the University’s Hydra Repository at:

The report gives a full account of the project (including the two user testing reports as appendices), its evaluation, and details the University’s plans to pursue Blacklight for possible production use.


Final budget

December 14, 2010

The JISC has agreed our final budget:

Final approved JISC budget

If you click it you should get a readable version.  As we’ve said before, please don’t blame us for the JISC’s striking colour scheme!

Our final report is also finished and should appear here in the next couple of days.

Usability testing [3]

November 16, 2010

In October we did some usability testing on our own version of Blacklight with 10 volunteers comprised of library staff and students.  None of the participants in these tests were the same people that did the previous testing in May.  We followed the same pattern as with our previous testing, asking users what they thought about the general display and layout of the system and individual records and asking them to perform a number of searches and then to refine those searches.

Results for performing the searches were similar to the first round of testing, which generally showed that users could easily do basic searches.  Users had most difficulty in the first use of limiting by facets, but for subsequent use of these they quickly learnt what to do.  As before, although a system may be unfamiliar, users soon learn how to use it.  This was helpful in confirming that our version of Blacklight was as easy to use as the others we had tested.

Equally important were the views of our testers on the general displays and features of the system.  These should help us to make improvements where appropriate and also confirm which elements are liked by users.  Among the general comments there were several instances where users mentioned that the displays were “clear” and “uncluttered” and it appeared that they liked this feature.  We also asked their opinions on the different facets for limiting searches and again there were useful comments.  In particular, all wanted the Publication date facet to be presented in a chronological order since this would be an easier way to refine such searches.

There were a few concerns around relevance ranking in particular and thus the order in which search results were presented.  It was also commented that this seemed to lead to a loss of precision and made it less easy to find both expected and specific items.

Overall, the testing has provided us with plenty of information which will be useful if the University decides to continue developing its own version of Blacklight for the library.

[Posted on behalf of Diane Leeson]

Union search and revised categories

October 31, 2010

We’re pleased to announce that we have managed the last major task of the project – a union search across the library catalogue and a repository index.  We’ve taken a small extract from our repository and re-indexed it using field names in common with the library Solr index to produce a single, combined index.

We’ve also solved a little mystery that we had over why the facet counts didn’t match the content of our libraries!  Hull’s libraries don’t use the default MARC field for format and language and for BL@T we were indexing the wrong one…  Oops!

Usability testing [2]

August 27, 2010

Posted on behalf of Diane Leeson

Analysis of the usability testing we did back in May on two other existing Blacklight implementations – SearchWorks at Stanford University and VirgoBeta at the University of Virginia – shows the following general results.

Not surprisingly, doing a basic search was the thing which users found to be the easiest with all participants getting this right first time.  Clicking on the title to get the full record on screen was also easy in almost all cases.  The elements which gave the most difficulty were related to refining searches, in particular limiting to online items and finding items in an individual library.  However, by the time users were asked to refine a search to just books at the end of the SearchWorks test they all got this first time round, which indicates that they were starting to pick this up as you would expect.

When viewing the full record users generally identified the class numbers ok, but had more difficulty in identifying the number of items and the location.  This may reflect a lack of clarity in those areas, although it could also just be unfamiliarity with the layout.

There was one element of each of the different interfaces which divided opinion.  On SearchWorks this was the tag cloud on the main search page which some testers liked and others hated. Interestingly, a quick look at SearchWorks today shows that the tag cloud now seems to have been removed.  On VirgoBeta the controversial element was the Recently Added book covers which some testers thought was helpful, but others felt this was too random and irrelevant.

We also asked our testers to give their opinion on which interface they preferred.  Results were:

  • 7 preferred VirgoBeta
  • 5 preferred SearchWorks
  • 3 liked different aspects of both and made no choice.

The fact that there is no strong preference for one interface over the other suggests that both are acceptable.   Our own version of Blacklight shows more resemblance to the VirgoBeta model  than the SearchWorks one at present.

Consider the numbers pushed!

August 13, 2010

The Blacklight at Hull team is pleased to announce that our test installation now has records for the entire University of Hull library catalogue covering several geographically distributed sites.  This represents slightly under 900,000 items.  Our  Blacklight instance appears to be coping with this volume of information without difficulty.

In passing, our colleagues at Stanford and Virginia Universities in the US have both recently released new versions of their Blacklight-based systems.

Pushing up the numbers

July 15, 2010

We continue to advance ‘Blacklight@Hull’ stage by stage.

Although not much has obviously happened in the last month or so, behind the scenes we’ve been beavering away considering how to get holdings information (is the resource available on the shelf?) out of our existing system to feed the new interface.  (The ‘available’ status that the interface currently shows is just a place-holder.)

We’ve also been considering issues of scale and have just lifted the number of records in the system from around 20,000 to around 200,000 without too many problems and we hope that the final jump (to nearly 900,000) will take place soon.

Usability testing [1]

June 10, 2010

Posted on behalf of Diane Leeson:

With the prospect of our students soon to leave for their summer vacation we thought it useful to do some usability testing as soon as possible so organised this for May.  Although our own version of Blacklight was not yet ready, we realised we could ask users to test two versions already in operation: SearchWorks at Stanford University and VirgoBeta at the University of Virginia.  We set up a few tasks to be done in each system and also asked for some general opinions on search and record display.  Hopefully, the feedback from this can be used in defining our own system.

We managed to get a small group of mainly students and a couple of academic staff to help us with this.  One half of the group tested SearchWorks first and the other half tested VirgoBeta first, just to see make sure that one system was not always benefiting from users gaining some familiarity with the system format.  We are still in the process of analysing the results, but it looks like we will have some useful information to work with.

Alpha prototype

June 9, 2010

The Blacklight at Hull team is pleased to announce that our alpha prototype discovery interface is visible to the world at:

Please note that the site is under constant development and service is not guaranteed.  Blacklight is running over a test extraction of just over 20,000 records from our full library catalogue.  We know that there are all sorts of niggles still to sort out (foreign character display to name but one) but we’re very pleased with the way things are going.  Note that the ‘availability status’ is a placeholder for a feature yet to be developed.  Our next task is to try the interface with a full catalogue dump.

Baby’s first step

May 10, 2010

We’ve spent the last two or three weeks getting hardware set up to support our case study and getting the necessary bits of software installed.  We’ve also done a small test extract of MARC records from Hull’s main library catalogue.  Today BL@H took it’s first proper step:

First MARC record in our Blacklight

To you it may look like a screen shot; to us its our first library MARC record coming out of Blacklight!  Now we need to take a serious look at configuration and getting the system to deal sensibly with all the records in the extract.  I think this qualifies as a “small win”…