Vintage Post: Teaching the New Mirlyn Catalog

bent one-way sign
By Karan Jain from Washington, DC, USA (one way trip.) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This post originally appeared in the Instructor College Blog hosted on

Instructors from throughout the Library gathered on Friday, November 20, 2009 to discuss their experiences teaching the new Mirlyn catalog.  Panelists Shevon Desai and Angie Oehrli opened the discussion by sharing their experiences.


Shevon remarked that her approach to teaching the new Mirlyn differs each time.  Consistently, however, she first shows students how to search Mirlyn from the library home page.  Then, she transitions to the Mirlyn native interface.  Her approach situates the catalog in the larger context of the library web site and among library resources in general.  Other instructors said they choose not to show students how to search Mirlyn from the home page, focusing instead on the native interface.


Angie characterized her approach to teaching the new, more user-friendly Mirlyn with a question: how much do you teach and how much do you facilitate students' discovery?  Angie's style of teaching in general is problem-based and her approach to teaching Mirlyn is to provide students with a task that facilitates their discovery of Mirlyn's features.  She asks students to find sources on a topic and then guides them to specific features as they experiment and play with the interface.

Many instructors described how time limitations in instruction sessions affect what and how they teach.  To mitigate the problem of limited time, instructors seek to enable students to transfer skills between interfaces, including article databases and Mirlyn.  Angie compares Mirlyn to Amazon in order to help students apply the understanding they have of familiar web interfaces to the library catalog.

Group Discussion

Others remarked that while self-paced discovery may help first-year students learn Mirlyn, upper division students and graduate students may prefer more directed instruction that imparts specific skills, techniques, and strategies.  Also, these students -- as compared to first-year students -- may be more familiar with the literature in their research areas and may be less interested in discovery of new sources, which many of Mirlyn's features facilitate.

Instructors also debated the merits of teaching from the basic search versus the advanced search.  Some prefer to limit searches at the outset, while other prefer to limit using facets only.

Participants in the discussion also mentioned the following:


  • Non-latin character display -- Many users, including some international students, are pleased with the display of non-latin characters in Mirlyn.
  • Subject headings -- prominent display of subject headings at the top of item records makes them easier to use.


  • Small font size -- the font size of some page elements is very small and display problems arise when the size is increased.
  • OR, NOT, and Boolean terms in all caps* -- terms in the basic search box are connected by OR by default; this results in large sets of results, many of which are not relevant.  Also, it is not possible to exclude terms from a search in the basic search box.  And, Boolean operators must be all caps.
  • Feedback -- instructors expressed confusion about where to send feedback on Mirlyn.

Specific Features to Highlight:

  • Facets
  • How to deselect facets
  • Similar items
  • Limiting by academic discipline

We invite you to continue the discussion online.  Share your experiences with your colleagues.

  • How do you teach Mirlyn?
  • Do you begin with the basic search or the advanced search?
  • Do you demonstrate searching Mirlyn from the library home page?
  • Do you provide step-by-step instructions or do you allow students to discover Mirlyn's features on their own?
  • What successes, challenges, and insights can you share from your experiences teaching Mirlyn?

*Update: Adjustments have been made to the default search settings - the default connector varies depending on how many terms are searched.  For example, if three terms are entered in the search box, at least two must appear in results retrieved.