About 18 months ago, toward the end of 2010, we started to look at implementations of discovery systems. We had already decided to move from federated search to a discovery platform (best. decison. ever.) and were keen to see what others were doing.

Eventually we decided on Serials Solutions’ Summon, loaded it with our catalogue holdings and began a closed beta trial. Feedback came swiftly from the academic librarians. They suggested that their searches were producing odd and unexpected results. This was worrying as we knew that other institutions had reported benefits such as a large increase in full text downloads. Not good. These were the guys that had to be our proponents of the system to the wider university community. If we couldn’t convince them, then we were going to struggle.

Chilax dude!

So I went to a meditation session… and stumbled upon a concept that, for me at least, began to explain some of the unexpected results. Shoshin or “beginner’s mind” comes from the dichotomy that exists between the beginner’s and the expert’s mind. It is taken from Zen Buddhism and was made popular by Shunryu Suzuki (a Zen master) in his 1970 book “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind” in which he suggests:

“The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities.”

do NOT do that, AND instead do this OR it won’t work

When I applied this concept to the way I was testing the web-scale discovery system it became apparent why my results were dissatisfying. My colleagues and I had been using hyper stylised searches, throwing in all the boolean that we could muster. Once I began to move away from the expert approach and treated Summon as I thought our first year undergrads might use it, and spent more time refining my results, then the experience was much more meaningful. Connections between search terms and results were more obvious. I started thinking that the expert mind focuses on the content, the beginner mind focuses on how the content is experienced. We need to worry much more about the second category. As Suzuki himself suggests:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Which leads me on to the free Information Literacy and Summon event that Sheffield Hallam are hosting on July 18th – come and learn all about Summon, information literacy and Shoshin! Interested? Here are some more details and a booking form.