A Brief History of Changes to Western University’s Library Webpage

Western University recent launched a new, streamlined Library Home Page. This it what it looks like now:2015

This is what the Library Webpage looked like just before the change:pre2015

The multiple search tabs (Summon, Catalogue, and Course Reserves) have been removed and replaced with one search box. One main interface to search for resources on the library website. This interface is, of course, their discovery tool Summon. Is the library Catalogue being swallowed up by discovery tools? Should it be?

I am planning on doing a more in depth comparison of different university library discovery tools in the coming weeks. For now I thought it would just be fun to see how Western’s Library Page has changed over the last few years:



The Library Catalogue is front and centre here. No such thing as discovery tools just yet. Hard to believe that something so fundamentally important to Research Libraries didn’t exist just 6 years ago.

There is something like a discovery tool here though. In the second search box you can do a an article, journal, or database search. However there is no discovery tool capability to search over all resources here, so the library plugs your search into a specific subject area focused database that you can choose from a list beside the search box.

The default database here is on the subject of “Business and Economics” (the drop down options are in alphabetical order) and unfortunately I can’t search anything on this archived library website to see what databases the librarians chose to represent each subject area. This way the searcher doesn’t need to know about the databases themselves, but can just go to the library page, select the subject they are researching in, and trust that the librarians have chosen a reputable and helpful database.

This was the golden years of subject specialized databases. Being the subject area for database on Western’s Library Homepage would mean waves of undergrad users. It would be interesting to get a list of the subject area databases used by Western and how often Librarians changed them.

Also there is a citation linker below the subject databases search! This was how you found the specific citation information of an article before you could just search the title in the discovery tool or look it up on google. Aaron Tay did a great article a couple months ago about rethinking citation linkers that is well worth checking out.

Finally, the last search bar allows one to search Program guides. That is, detailed lists of research sources for different areas of studies. University Libraries still make a lot of these (LibGuides) but it is interesting to see a search option for the program guides on the front page.

There isn’t more then a hundred of these program guides, it would probably work a lot better having a browse option for these instead of searching.



Ok. The 2010 page is still very similar. No big changes. Still the offputting brown and purple colour scheme (This is 2010…not the 90s) and three search bars.

The subject database search got its title lessened from “Search Articles, Journals, and Databases” to just “Search for Articles”. Simplicity is king.

There is also the removal of the “Search Program Guides” and the addition of a “Search the Library Website” with a drop-down allowing the user to search specific areas of the library website.  Yep. This a pretty boring change. I am sure someone spent all of 2009 fighting for it though.

Also we can see some promotion for Scholarship@Western, Western’s Institutional Repository (IR) is happening in the bottom right hand corner there. IR’s were not as well established in 2010 as they are now. Good to see that Western was ahead of the curve.



Boom. One search bar.

However, there are really 4 search bars for the 4 tabs, but only the one appears on the home screen. One step forward and two steps back.

So what has changed here? The Catalogue option is now even more-so the primary option for the user. Now they can specify what they want to search in the Catalogue by selecting the keyword, title, journal title, author, or subject option.

Also notice it is no longer called “Catalogue” now it is just “Books”. The word “Catalogue” no longer appears anywhere on the Library’s homepage. Is it because of fear of scaring away users with complex library lingo? Belief that simplicity is the best option, and that to most people Catalogue means books, so just put books?

We know that the word “Catalogue”  ends up returning. Scroll back up to the second image in this blog from 2015 and you will see it there as one of search box tabs. Was it decided that just saying “books” no longer encompassed what the Catalogue was? Or was reinstating a rejection of the belief that pandering is the best way to increase the information literacy of students?

Still no discovery tool in 2011. Clicking on the article search tab just changes the search box to a very similar specific subject database search to the 2009 page. The user still has to scroll through a list of databases on the side to select their research subject.

No more search boxes for the Library Website or Program Guides, but instead the addition of a “Reference” search which appears to plug the users search query into an online encyclopedia like Oxford or Britannica (I wish I could see where it goes, but can’t search on this archived page) and a “Course Reserve” search.

A lot of decisions and debates over what search bars to put on the front of the library webpage has occurred between 2009-11. So far we have seen six completely different search bars. Let’s see how long these two new search bars last (Spoiler: Not long)


2012The Discovery Tool makes its appearance. Not only does it appear but it becomes the primary search tool. Pushing the Catalogue back a search box (Hey it is called a Catalogue again already! That was quick) and replacing the subject database  article search.

Notice the “Learn about Summon” and the “Let us know what you think about Summon” links just below the search box. Libraries were pretty worried about installing discovery tools at first and some still are. Interesting that Western thrust it front and centre pretty quick instead of making it a secondary search tab behind the Catalogue.

I wonder what the feedback was like from students. Was it loved? Hated? This Discovery Tool was adopted the year before I started going to Western. I remember hearing both sides when I started.

Western now has a Library Chat function (bottom right)!

No more brown and purple colours! Thank god.



There is a big usability shift between 2012 and 2013. Website has become simpler, sleeker, and easier to navigate. I think ore aesthetically appealing as well. Still the same four search tabs as the last year. “Reference” and “Course Reserve” have stuck around longer then I thought.

The evaluation of Summon is still ongoing here though, as you can see from the links below.



No real big changes from 2014-15. A new version of Summon is on it’s way. Still collecting feedback about it as well. Putting a Discovery Tool in is a big move. Western has given it three years to settle at this point. The Librarian chat function is now promoted and has an eye catching graphic.


pre2015Three search boxes. “Reference” is gone.

Today (July 2015)


Now what will happen in the coming years to Western Library’s website? Once you have reduced to the simplest search portal can you get anymore complex? Any chance Western will decide that one search box is not enough and add another one? Or are we past that now and hitting one search box is the end of the line? The End of Library Search History, as Francis Fukuyama would say, where every library adopts this format as the standard and there are no more deviations from it?

What comes next after the one search bar discovery tool? I recommend that you go do a search on the new library website for University of Toronto and look at the unique interface they have. Is this the future?

Thanks for reading. Sorry this was a long one.

If you want to read more about Library Website Search boxes check out this great (even if it is slightly dated at this point) Blog post from Aaron Tay


About Ryan Regier

Doing Library Stuff. Follow me on twitter at: @ryregier
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2 Responses to A Brief History of Changes to Western University’s Library Webpage

  1. Hi Ryan, I liked your website timeline. I did something similar for Ohio State University Libraries’ website: http://library.osu.edu/blogs/it/library-website-timeline/

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