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By Eddie Neuwirth

Last month we blogged about the release of new 360 Link features and functionality which are designed to strengthen the library’s role in the research process. These link resolver enhancements are just the latest in a series of 360 Link improvements rolled out over the last 6 to 8 months that offer libraries the opportunity to improve access to content, boost user satisfaction, and enable librarians to deliver more help to users at the point of need. 

Wait. Did that say “link resolver”? Maybe you’re thinking, “My library implemented one of those years ago and it’s been working fine. So why should we think about our link resolver? Shouldn’t we be worried more about web-scale discovery?”

The truth is your library link resolver probably hasn’t been working quite as well as you think, at least when it comes to meeting today’s users’ expectations for seamless and convenient access to discovered content. A link resolver is required for every discovery service. And, when we consider that users often start their research journey from places such as Google scholar or PubMed, the link resolver menu often serves as the front door to the library. If your library is serving up a less-than-optimal linking experience, that front door might be only partway open.

For most libraries, the link resolver has largely been a “set it and forget it” technology.  If you’re at a typical library, your link resolver was implemented 3, 5, 10, or maybe even 15 years ago. It’s something that probably isn’t being re-evaluated or thought about all that much. The person who implemented it, or knows how to configure it, might not even be around anymore.

During this same time period, your library’s digital collections have likely grown exponentially. You may have experienced one or more website upgrades, and implemented a service or two to make your content more easily discoverable. When you have patrons clamoring for better access, you need to direct your attention to improving the experience of linking to content. Your link resolver should not be taken for granted. It is a critical component of your library’s discovery strategy.

Here are the top 3 reasons why it may be time to re-evaluate the effectiveness of linking for your library:

#3 - Links Fail More Often Than You Think
Most link resolvers are reliant on OpenURL-based technologies, which are unpredictable at best. Around for nearly 15 years now, OpenURL-based link resolver links are known to have a high failure rate – as high as 5-30%.1  And despite best efforts from everyone involved (vendors, libraries, and publishers) to improve standards and collaboration around linking, there are inherent limitations of OpenURL-based technologies;  perfect linking is more of an ideal than an achievable goal. “Close” might be good enough for horseshoes and hand-grenades, as the saying goes, but anything less than hitting the bull’s-eye is a failure when it comes to linking.

The reasons for failed links can be numerous – most commonly because of bad or mismatched metadata, quality and timeliness of vendor knowledgebase updates, holdings configuration issues, and simple user error.  Another linking failure point is when the link resolver can only take the user as far as a target journal homepage, rather than directly to a desired article. When paired with true failed links, these frequent “journal-only” links can negatively impact link resolver success rates.

#2 - User Experience Matters
One major stumbling block impeding the success of linking for libraries is the link resolver menu, or navigation landing page.

According to Jeff Wisniewski, web services librarian at the University of Pittsburgh, traditional link resolver landing pages “… are usability nightmares. Non-contextual, confusing, lacking hierarchy, lacking clear calls to action, lacking explanation, [and] the list goes on and on.”2  Besides the fact that a link resolver menu is largely a foreign concept to end users, part of the problem is that link resolvers often present multiple links to end users from multiple sources, making what and where to click a mystery.

In research conducted by Bonnie Imler and Michelle Eichenberg at Pennsylvania State University Altoona, when users reach the link resolver landing page, they often fail to click the appropriate link that would get them to the full text they’re searching for.3 In other words, user confusion can cause a failed linking experience as much as broken links.  It’s hard to imagine that any library would intentionally present users with a confusing library home page, yet that’s what’s happening every day when libraries present link resolver menus that are not intuitive and don’t match user expectations.

#1 – Users Do Need Help to Succeed
Another often-overlooked issue in the linking experience is that users may need help more often than we think.

A multi-year University of Michigan study suggested that the percentage of broken links discovered by end-users is vastly under-reported.4 In addition, we really don’t know the number of times when users simply give up when trying to navigate their way to desired content. That’s because, as Imler points out, “… in general, when a user encounters a link failure, they blame themselves. They assume they’ve done something wrong, so they hit the back button or re-run the search…. bad links aren't reported as bad links since the searcher doesn't recognize the [true] problem.”5 After a while, the end users’ perception almost always shifts toward thinking that it’s the library that is broken. 

Link resolvers can be more than simply links to content; they can serve as first gateways to library services, including access to real-time help, contextual recommendations, and available delivery services. If the link resolver is neither intuitive to navigate nor highly customizable, the library will lose out on opportunities to guide or get users where they need to go. 

Rethink Links
Whatever type of library you are in, if you are using a link resolver that is more than a year old, now is a good time to re-evaluate its reliability and features. The outcomes that you are trying to achieve – greater visibility of your library, connecting patrons to resources – quite often depend on a link resolver.

With the latest 360 Link redesign, we’ve tackled these three critical link resolver issues head on – including delivering improved linking reliability, a modern and intuitive user experience, and new opportunities for librarians to provide help to users when and where they need it most.

Check out what’s new with 360 Link. For more information you can request a demo, connect with our Support team, or watch our latest recorded webinar

In our next blog post, we’ll highlight the top ways that the new 360 Link is different from those legacy OpenURL link resolvers still in use at so many libraries today.

1. Jason S. Price and Cindi Trainor. "Digging into the Data: Exposing the Causes of Resolver Failure." Library Technology Reports 46.7 (October 2010): 15-26.

2. Jeff Wisniewski.  “The Missing Link (Resolver).” Online Searcher. 39.1(January/February 2015): 74.

3. Bonnie Imler and Michelle Eichenberger. “Do they ‘Get it?’ Student Usage of SFX Citation Linking Software.” College and Research Libraries. (September 2011) 454-463.

4. Kenyon Stuart, Ken Varnum, Judith Ahronheim. “Measuring Journal Level Success from a Discovery Service.” Information Technology and Libraries. 34.1 (2015) 52-76.

5. Bonnie Imler and Michelle Eichenberger. “Commercial database design vs. library terminology comprehension: Why do students print abstracts instead of full-text articles?” College & Research Libraries, 75.3 (2014) 284-297. doi:10.5860/crl12-426

15 May 2015

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