January 24, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 8

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    Lens search engine allows for research with fewer dead ends

    By Julia Morse
    News Office


    John Kimbrough (right), Assistant to the Library Director, shows Kyle Chan and Thalia Gigerenzer how to use the library’s new search engine, Lens, at the Joseph Regenstein Library.

    Photo by Beth Rooney


    A new electronic search engine, called Lens, aims to make research easier, more thorough and much faster for faculty, students and staff using the University Library.

    “Lens is not only a search tool for faculty and students but also a learning tool for librarians that will help us to understand the investment that needs to be made in library search engines,” said Judith Nadler, Director of the University Library.

    Nadler noted that the University Library is one of the first large research libraries to implement this search engine. It was developed by the Dutch company Medialab Solutions and customized in collaboration with University programmers and librarians for the University environment.

    Tod Olson, Systems Librarian, explained that while the more traditional electronic catalog is precise, it is not as flexible as Lens.

    “Our goal was to address any problematic issues and to implement the most ideal system for our students and faculty—that is what Lens is,” Olson said, noting that the online catalog still remains available for users. “Lens behaves more like a typical Web-based search engine. Results are ranked, it encourages users to do progressive refinement of their searches and they are not forced to distinguish between keyword searching and alphabetical browsing. There should be a smoother learning curve.”

    Olson said a test group of 12 graduate students working on their dissertations was formed in 2006 to gauge the needs of library, users. During the demonstrations and practice sessions, nine of the 12 students found new materials using Lens that they never found during other searches, Olson said.

    “This was a clear indication that Lens would be extremely beneficial to our researchers,” he added.

    Lens will improve electronic searching experiences for the “less intense, more casual” user, as well, Olson said.

    One of the benefits Lens provides is a “word cloud,” a cluster of related or similar words, made available during a search as a method of improving, expanding or narrowing searches.

    “Lens will allow users to slice through large result sets and have significantly fewer dead ends in their searches.” Olson said. “It is a great addition to our system and an extremely helpful tool in providing increased access to our information and collections.”

    In a written statement released last week to the University community, Nadler wrote, “Lens is designed to bring us into the flow of users’ evolving access patterns in the Web environment. I expect that our ongoing use and upgrades to Lens will allow us not only to speed and enhance the research of University faculty, students and staff—but also to advance international bibliographic standards that facilitate the integration of library and other resources.”

    Lens is now available for use at http://lens.lib.uchicago.edu.