Fiction readers’ book search in public library catalogs

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Pinni B building auditorium 1096, address: Kanslerinrinne 1.

Anna Mikkonen

Doctoral defence of M.A. Anna Mikkonen

Fiction readers’ book search in public library catalogs

The field of science of the dissertation is Information Studies and Interactive Media.

The opponent is Professor Iris Xie (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA). Professor Emeritus Pertti Vakkari acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is English.

Finding fiction - Fiction readers’ book search in public library catalogs

During modern literacy, fictional books have touched, charmed and horrified us by changing our thinking and expanding our worldview. With the digital revolution, the ways and places of reading fictional literature have become more diversified. The ways of searching for fiction have also changed with digitalization as public libraries have begun to offer both their fiction collections and their services to an increasing extent in a digital form. A lot of time, money and staff have been invested in the development of library catalogs. However, the information on the effectiveness and usefulness of this development work in the perspective of fiction readers is rather limited. We do not know whether the modern metadata-enriched library catalogs help fiction readers in their quest for good books, or how fiction readers feel about searching for fiction in online environments. What is going to happen to the readers when the well-known and well-found means of book discovery in physical libraries are potentially unworkable in the digital environment? This doctoral dissertation focuses on searching for and finding of fiction by investigating how fiction readers select interesting, entertaining, touching or challenging fiction books in search situations where the starting point for the search is often just a vague idea to find “something good to read”. The doctoral dissertation examines how online public library catalogs function in often open ended search situations and how they meet the diverse needs of fiction readers. The study produces information on fiction readers’ search activities in interaction with two different library catalogs. The results of the study help to understand readers’ search actions and the challenges and opportunities faced by readers when they search for novels in library catalogs. This information is vital when library catalogs are further developed to meet the diverse needs of readers with various search skills and literary preferences.

The results show that in a successful search for recreational reading in a library catalog, a combination of a reader’s capacity to reflect his/her reading preferences, a capacity to alter these preferences in a language that the system understands and a capacity to identify an appealing item from a number of possible interesting books is a necessity. The results show that the differences between the library catalogs are highly associated to the readers’ search behaviors.  The results yeild that the readers apply a variety of search approaches for novels in an enriched library catalog, in comparison with the query-based search in a traditional library catalog. The browsing of cover images, skimming the tag cloud or browsing other users’ virtual book shelves are popular search approaches in the enriched catalog. The readers experience a visually appealing starting page of the service, which offers a variety of entry points to the collection, as a well-functioning beginning point for fiction searching. Visual and social elements, such as virtual bookshelves assembled by other users, imitate the experience of browsing books in a physical library environment. An easy-to-use and a well-functioning search system helps the finding of known items.  An informative and enriched result list containing a cover image and a snippet of the blurb supports picking appealing titles form a large amount of search results. A detailed and versatile metadata, cover images and text samples at book pages, simulate the experience of browsing the book in a physical library environment.

With the results of this dissertation, we are a step closer towards a comprehensive understanding of what a fiction reader thinks and does while selecting recreational readings. The results of this dissertation can support the designing of functional library catalogs and help readers’ navigation in digital environments towards interesting novels.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2299, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2017. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1802, Tampere University Press 2017.

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