Interface changes are stressful, kind of like dating

Like many of you out there, I am currently being forced to overcome my resistance to change and explore the new OvidSP interface (nice tutorial here). Argh! So, like some fellow health librarian bloggers I am putting my opinions out there. I’ll warn you now that some grouchiness ensues below…

First of all, Interface changes make me break out in a cold sweat, cause my heart to pound, and all those things. I feel worried I’m going to lose all this work I’ve done and that my previously-acquired skills will be rendered useless. I have anticipatory dread over the inevitable fumbling as I learn the new rules and shortcuts, combined with a glimmer of excitement that old dysfunctions might be resolved or eliminated. I notice my loyalty to the old interface, no matter how much I have scorned it in the past, because of its familiarity. Yet I know I have to take the chance, first of all because the new one might actually be better, and secondly because often there really is no going back. It’s a bit like falling in love, except with no sex or chocolate.

My first impressions are that Ovid is trying to become more user-friendly. This is where my professional searcher self and my public service self conflict. I can still remember the first time I was faced with an Ovid interface. I was searching for something in BIOSIS related to sex-changing fish, if I recall correctly. I was a library student and the interface was, at first, rather daunting, with the sometimes labyrinthine subject mapping and gazillions of fields from which I could choose. However, now that I am acclimated, I rather like the Byzantine structure of many Ovid databases. I would never default to doing a systematic review search in, say, the Ebsco interface to Medline!

I have this awesome setup at work with two monitors side-by-side. It seemed extravagant at first, but now I shudder to imagine life with out it –especially when searching while documenting a search, or adapting an academic paper into a one-page KT factsheet. Today I took a deep breath and jumped into a side-by-side comparison of the old and new Ovid interfaces to Medline ((R) 1950 to Present with Daily Update). So, in case you care, or care to argue with me about it, below are my initial thoughts.

What I like:

  • Spellcheck! Hurrah for this! It is far too easy to typo and not notice, particularly with esoteric drug names, binomial nomenclature, and the like.
  • *Much* longer timeout periods. Another hurrah here! The #1 peeve I have with old Ovid is that I answer the phone or go to the washroom and when I come back to my search, I get booted out because of the timeout period. Moving from 15 minutes to 75 is a huge improvement – thank you!
  • Combining searches without loading a new screen to do so. (Of course, I usually just type in ((1 and 2) not (3 or 4)) rather than click checkboxes and buttons , but for a simple and/or combo it is better now. And for less-professional users with slow connection time this is a good thing.
  • My personal account transferred over just fine. *whew*
  • Not having to scroll to the bottom to sort records or use the results manager
  • Ability to sort results by a longer list of attributes

What makes me want to tear my hair out:

  • Where did my Subject Mapping go? Why did you bury this under a tab I have to click on, check a box for Mapping, and then click on again? I love my subject mapping! And why, on the “search tools” tab, are the features you used to (and still can) access through the mapping display all set out there independently? I admit there’s a slight chance that once I get used to it I will like being able to check a scope note of a subject heading without first mapping to the subject heading, but right now I’m feeling ornery about the loss of subject mapping as the default. (The default “tab” can, of course, be changed at the administrative level…depending on the admin’s assessment of user needs)
  • Smaller print. Hello inaccessibility! Like we really need to squint more at our screens? And don’t tell me I can just use my mouse roller to enlarge – the spacing gets wonky and text overflows its boxes when I bring it up to the size of the old interface type. (Except when you output the results list in Ovid display, when it inexplicably gets really big and ugly. What is this about?)
  • The OvidSP tip box. Tell me this is temporary, please? Tips are great, but either allow me to disable this feature for the expert searcher, or at least make it smaller and less obtrusive. This is the only place on my page with font the size of old Ovid, and it’s not what I want to focus on.
  • The vagueness of some of the search tips anyway – just telling me that * is now a wildcard is not useful. If I know enough to understand what a wildcard operator is, I probably want to know if/how it is different from $ in Ovid.
  • Still no option to get month-specific when limiting results by publication date. This is where Ebsco really has the leg up, Ovid-folks.
  • What is the deal with the “Score” out of five stars? Am I missing something? Are we not working with an exact match system here? All of my results have five stars, defeating the purpose, one would think. Perhaps this is relevant in some other databases that share the interface?
  • A disadvantage to novice users is definitely, IMO, the elimination of the “Advanced search” point of entry. Oh yes, I see it is still there under “Ovid Syntax,” but really what non-librarian wants to click a tab called “syntax”? The switch from author or title searching being right out there on the advanced search page, to requiring that users go to either the Ovid Syntax or the “Find Citation” tab and enter in the author name or title in field boxes there. I am not convinced that “Find citation” sounds the same as “search by author” to people. Also, why the heck does it ask for Author surname if it really wants Surname, Firstname?
  • This is a temporary beef, for the transition period, but why does the old Ovid interface entice you to “Try OvidSP?” in your “classic” interface session, only to chuck your current search without warning if you do decide to click and try the new interface? This is super annoying, and gets us off on the wrong foot from the start. ISI Web of Knowledge managed to launch their new interface in a new window so you don’t chuck your old search – why isn’t Ovid doing so as well?
  • Finally, the amount of time this is going to suck in end-user retraining. My faculty who actually use Medline are interested in learning advanced Google searching, frankly, not retraining on a system that they already knew.

The jury is still out on:

  • Ability to annotate records. When would I use this? How is this useful to me? I will have to think about/play with this. Anyone out there find this useful?
  • “Narrow search” suggestions. How very Ebsco of you, Ovid. I will admit that this is somewhat nice for novice searchers, but for me it just takes up space on the page, adding to the small/squinched font issue. Additionally, I find that novice searchers frequently get lost in layers of narrowing by suggested subject, rather than being helped by it, so I’m unconvinced at this point. But there’s the possibility you could change my mind.

I like that Ovid is trying to be more user friendly – I really do. However, that’s why we have Ebsco – and, frankly, PubMed – is it not? Of course, not all of us *do* have EBSCO as well as Ovid – many libraries have to choose, which is why everyone has to try be everything to every user. I get that. Still, Ovid is pretty good at what they do, and it would be entirely possible to incorporate some of the “Hurrah!” improvements without scrapping the old layout/focus. The battle between generalist-user accessibility and expert-user utility rages on, I guess. I just have my doubts that Ovid will ever be the Medline etc. interface of the masses – and from that perspective I wish they’d hone their expert searching tools rather than make dubious stabs at being user-friendly and able to search with a natural language query.


1 Comment

Filed under Health, tips and tools

One response to “Interface changes are stressful, kind of like dating

  1. Pingback: Nieuwe gezichten « afvalchinees

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