March 28, 2011

New interface launched for searching JHU libraries collection

Catalyst, launched on March 18, will improve search for print online resources

Students and faculty returning from spring break will notice something different when they get back into the swing of their research. Catalyst, a new search interface, was launched on March 18. The tool, several years in the making, is an open source project and was developed at Johns Hopkins by programmers and librarians from across the university and in collaboration with several other major research libraries.

“Talking to faculty and students over the past few years affirmed our theory that it was time to create a more intuitive interface for the university’s library catalog,” said Stephen Sears, electronic resources librarian at the Mason Library at SAIS. “Hopkins has, literally, millions of print and online resources, and they must be easily accessible. Our goal with Catalyst is simple: to enable you to find on-target information for your research as efficiently as possible.”

The new tool, which can be found at, is not replacing the old catalog just yet. “We plan to let users test this out and give us their feedback for the next several months,” said David Kennedy, head of systems for the Sheridan Libraries. “We’ll be conducting user tests and inviting users across the university to tell us what and where they see room for improvement. We will eventually phase out the current search tool that users see when they first log on to their library’s home page, but we want to give our users some time to acclimate themselves to Catalyst first.”

Features of Catalyst include:

• Simplicity: A clean, uncluttered first screen has a simple keyword search box that searches all fields (title, author, subject, call numbers, etc.).

• Relevance-ranked results: Search results are returned with the most-relevant items at the top of the list. Alternatively, users can sort by year (newest to oldest), author or title. There is also a date slider that allows a user to refine results to a particular span of years.

• Intuitive searching: Searches can be refined using suggested limits that ensure accuracy without requiring knowledge of the Library of Congress subject headings, as is currently the case with the online catalog. In addition, search-results screens show the terms used to arrive at that result and allow a user to easily remove specific criteria.

In addition, Catalyst will allow users to more easily find electronic books and other nonprint materials than the current catalog. Likewise, researchers can manage their accounts via the tool, including requesting and renewing materials, accessing saved searches and adding titles to a “bookmarked” list. Users also can get citation suggestions in MLA or APA style for results and can email or text the book information for saving and using later. To ease the transition and provide some tips for using the new tool, the libraries are creating brief instructional videos, which will be shared via social media.

“The name Catalyst refers to the interplay between the researcher and the catalog,” said Sean Hannan, senior Web developer for the Sheridan Libraries. “You start with a query, the system responds with possibilities that help refine your search, and it goes from there. The goal is not just anything but truly meaningful results.”