Finding the right database in which to do your library research has gotten easier with a complete redesign and renovation of the UST Libraries’ database menu. (See the new page at http://www.lib.stthomas.edu/databases/index.htm)

Electronic research in the libraries has been a fairly recent, but very quickly developing phenomenon, with the number of searchable databases doubling in the last four years. The previous database menu simply reflected publisher name (rather than individual database titles.) For most users, there was no discernable significance in the arrangement. (For the record, the logic was that the most used databases were found at the top of the page.)

During the fall semester of 2000, a small group of library staff (Tom Prein, Ji Li, Jan Malcheski, Marianne Hageman and Jane Shriver) began to meet to plan a more logical arrangement for the page. Assisted by Lisa Burke-Marose, information architect with Computing and Communication Services, the group decided to honor several principles in their redesign effort:

  • Provide a subject arrangement for the databases. It was the feeling of the designers that a subject approach would be the most useful for researchers who may be more or less familiar with titles and publisher names.
  • Keep it simple, while presenting comprehensive information. It should be clear what the page is, what it can do while offering a range of options and without being “overly fussy.” Not surprisingly, the group learned that it is much harder to design a simple page than a complex one.
  • Maintain a one-page overview. The designers, as librarians, were comfortable with a multi-level hierarchy, but also understood that users often are impatient with elaborate classification schemes, and decided to provide the arrangement and all options on the first screen.
  • Minimize “click throughs.” The designers wanted the users to be able to get to their chosen database with the least amount of “drilling.”

The design team also opted to base the menu page on a Microsoft Access database, which provides for much more flexibility in the number of subject headings that can be assigned to each database. The Access database includes the subject headings as well as a priority ranking for each, which determines the position of the database on the menu. (The most important databases for each subject should appear higher on the list.) In their research on the ways other academic libraries have decided to arrange their database menus, the team discovered that this “database of databases” approach has not been widely used. It provides an innovative solution to the main question that the page is intended to answer: “Which is the best database for a search in my particular subject?”

In addition to the subject classification scheme, a sidebar on the left of the screen allows users to select databases by title, by “favorites” (most popular) and by “family” (name of the publishers that aggregate the individual database titles.)

A help menu offers advice on why to use databases at all, on the differences between types of databases and links to other subject guides that have been developed by librarians.

The database selection page will be undergoing additional fine tuning, particularly after we have more feedback on how well it is accomplishing its goals in the reality of the regular semester. It is the goal of the libraries to further clarify the libraries’ many offerings of electronic resources, including databases and journals. We encourage comments and questions about the page.