The “Black Box”: How Students Use a Single Search Box to Search for Music Materials


Given the inherent challenges music materials present to systems and searchers (formats, title forms and languages, and the presence of additional metadata such as work numbers and keys), it is reasonable that those searching for music develop distinctive search habits compared to patrons in other subject areas. This study uses transaction log analysis of the music and performing arts module of a library’s federated discovery tool to determine how patrons search for music materials. It also makes a top-level comparison of searches done using other broadly defined subject disciplines’ modules in the same discovery tool. It seeks to determine, to the extent possible, whether users in each group have different search behaviors in this search environment. The study also looks more closely at searches in the music module to identify other search characteristics such as type of search conducted, use of advanced search techniques, and any other patterns of search behavior.

Author Biography

Kirstin Dougan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Head, Music and Performing Arts Library

Associate Professor, University Library


John Boyd et al., “The One-Box Challenge: Providing a Federated Search that Benefits the Research Process,” Serials Review 32, no. 4 (December 2006): 247–54,

Sharon Dyas-Correia et al., “’The One-Box Challenge: Providing a Federated Search That Benefits the Research Process’ Revisited,” Serials Review 41, no. 4 (October-December 2015): 250–56,

Lucy Holman, “Millennial Students’ Mental Models of Search: Implications for Academic Librarians and Database Developers,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 37, no. 1 (January 2011): 19–27,

Brandi Porter, “Millennial Undergraduate Research Strategies in Web and Library Information Retrieval Systems,” Journal of Web Librarianship 5, no. 4 (July-December 2011): 267–85,

Martin Zimerman, “Digital Natives, Searching Behavior, and the Library,” New Library World 11, nos. 3/4 (2012): 174–201,

Susan Avery and Dan Tracy, “Using Transaction Log Analysis to Assess Student Search Behavior in the Library Instruction Classroom,” Reference Services Review 42, no. 2 (June 2014): 332,

Andrew Asher, Lynda M. Duke, and Suzanne Wilson, “Paths of Discovery: Comparing the Search Effectiveness of EBSCO Discovery Service, Summon, Google Scholar, and Conventional Library Resources,” College & Research Libraries 74, no. 5 (September 2013): 473,

Megan Dempsey and Alyssa Valenti, “Student Use of Keywords and Limiters in Web-scale Discovery Searching,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 42, no. 3 (May 2016): 203,

Annie R. Armstrong, “Student Perceptions of Federated Searching vs. Single Database Searching,” Reference Services Review 37, no. 3 August 2009): 291–303,

C. Jeffrey Belliston, Jared L. Howland, and Brian C. Roberts, “Undergraduate Use of Federated Searching: A Survey of Preferences and Perceptions of Value-added Functionality,” College & Research Libraries 68, no. 6 (November 2007): 472-86,

Sarah D. Williams, Angela Bonnell, and Bruce Stoffel, “Student Feedback on Federated Search Use, Satisfaction, and Web Presence: Qualitative Findings of Focus Groups,” Reference and User Services Quarterly 49, no. 2 (Winter 2009): 131–39.

Troy Swanson and Jeremy Green, “Why We Are Not Google: Lessons from a Library Web Site Usability Study,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 37, no. 3 (May 2011): 227,

Cory Lown, Tito Sierra, and Josh Boyer, “How Users Search the Library from a Single Search Box,” College & Research Libraries 74, no. 3 (May 2013): 240,

Sarah Dahlen and Kathlene Hanson, “Preference vs. Authority: A Comparison of Student Searching in a Subject-Specific Indexing and Abstracting Database and a Customized Discovery Layer,” College & Research Libraries 78, no. 7 (November 2017), 892,

Li Fu and Cynthia Thomes, “Implementing Discipline-Specific Searches in EBSCO Discovery Service,” New Library World 115, nos. 3/4 (2014): 102–15,

Kirstin Dougan, “Finding the Right Notes: An Observational Study of Score and Recording Seeking Behaviors of Music Students,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 41, no. 1 (January 2015): 61–67,

Jennifer M. Mayer, “Serving the Needs of Performing Arts Students: A Case Study,” Portal: Libraries & the Academy 15, no. 3 (July 2015): 416,

Joe Clark and Kristin Yeager, “Seek and You Shall Find? An Observational Study of Music Students’ Library Catalog Search Behavior,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 44, no. 1 (January 2018): 105-12,

Christine D. Brown, “Straddling the Humanities and Social Sciences: The Research Process of Music Scholars,” Library & Information Science Research 24, no. 1 (March 2002): 73–94,

Stephann Makri and Claire Warwick, “Information for Inspiration: Understanding Architects' Information Seeking and Use Behaviors to Inform Design,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology 61, no. 9 (September 2010): 1,745-770,

Ann Medaille, “Creativity and Craft: The Information-Seeking Behavior of Theatre Artists,” Journal of Documentation 66, no. 3 (May 2010): 327–47,

MaryBeth Meszaros, “A Theatre Scholar-Artist Prepares: Information Behavior of the Theatre Researcher,” in Advances in Library Administration and Organization (v. 29), Delmus E. Williams and Janine Golden, eds. (Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2010): 185-217

Bonnie Reed and Donald R. Tanner, “Information Needs and Library Services for the Fine Arts Faculty,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 27, no. 3 (May 2001): 231,

Shannon Robinson, “Artists as Scholars: The Research Behavior of Dance Faculty,” College & Research Libraries 77, no. 6 (November 2016): 779-94,

Ethelene Whitmire, “Disciplinary Differences and Undergraduates’ Information‐Seeking Behavior,” Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 53 (June 2002): 631-38,

Tina Chrzastowski and Lura Joseph, “Surveying Graduate and Professional Students' Perspectives on Library Services, Facilities and Collections at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Does Subject Discipline Continue to Influence Library Use?,” Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship 45, no. 1 (Winter 2006),

Ellen Collins and Graham Stone, “Understanding Patterns of Library Use Among Undergraduate Students from Different Disciplines,” Evidence Based Library and Information Practice 9 (September 2014): 51–67,

William H. Mischo et al., “User Search Activities within an Academic Library Gateway: Implications for Webscale Discovery Systems,” in Planning and Implementing Resource Discovery Tools in Academic Libraries, ed. Mary Popp and Diane Dallis (Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2012), 163.

Kirstin Dougan, “Information Seeking Behaviors of Music Students,” Reference Services Review 40, no. 4 (November 2012): 563,

Vanessa Williams, “‘Welded in a Single Mass’: Memory and Community in London’s Concert Halls During the First World War,” The Journal of Musicological Research 33, nos. 1–3 (2014): 27–38.

Barbara D. Henigman and Richard Burbank, “Online Music Symbol Retrieval from the Access Angle,” Information Technology & Libraries 14, 1 (March 1995): 5–16.

Symphony no. 4 in E flat “Romantic” by Anton Bruckner, Klaus Tennstedt (Conductor), London Philharmonic Orchestra. (Performer).

This is REICH: Sextet / Piano Phase / Eight Lines (Griffiths Kevin/ London Steve Reich Ensemble/ The/ Stephen Wallace) (Cpo: 777337-2)).

Kirstin Dougan, “Finding the Right Notes: An Observational Study of Score and Recording Seeking Behaviors of Music Students,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 41, no. 1 (January 2015): 66.

Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg, “Finding Context: What Today’s College Students Say About Conducting Research in the Digital Age,” Progress Report (2009) (Retrieved from

William H. Mischo et al., “The Bento Approach to Library Discovery: Web-Scale and Beyond,” Internet Librarian International, October 21, 2015.

Anke Hofmann and Barbara Wiermann, “Customizing Music Discovery Services: Experiences at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Leipzig,” Music Reference Services Quarterly 17, no. 2 (June 2014): 61–75,

Bob Thomas, “Creating a Specialized Music Search Interface in a Traditional OPAC Environment,” OCLC Systems & Services 27, no. 3 (August 2011): 248–56,

Nara Newcomer et al., “Music Discovery Requirements: A Guide to Optimizing Interfaces,” Notes 69, no. 3 (March 2013): 494-524,

How to Cite
Dougan, K. (2018). The “Black Box”: How Students Use a Single Search Box to Search for Music Materials. Information Technology and Libraries, 37(4), 81-106.