Is Bento Transforming Library Menus?

3 min read

By Nicholas Schultz
shutterstock_126736217This delicious image portrays a traditional Japanese Bento. Bento is a single portion takeout or home-packed meal. Traditionally a Bento would hold rice, protein, and pickled or cooked veggies – usually in a box-shaped container – hence “Bento Box”.

Over the last few years, Bento has become the new hip. Culinary speaking, Bento Boxes are being offered in most upscale gastro pubs throughout North America, regardless of cuisine style. It satisfies the hipster’s need to be trendy while not having to cook. It satisfies the Michelin chef’s need to offer chic take-out lunches at a premium price point. The world’s most expensive Bento sold for $229,000.

Now Bento is influencing how we consume information as well. The word “bento” roughly translates to “convenient” or “convenience”. In an embattled library world that has seen many skirmishes between federated searching and web-scale discovery/discovery service iterations, user convenience may be the silver bullet.

In federated searching, by presenting the user with one search interface and a simplified way of refining results, a search takes away a lot of the control and decision-making that are essential to advanced searches within one particular database. This simplification is necessary to connect resources from different providers. Content providers each have their own way of indexing content and finding a way to connect to all of them (federated search) takes a lowest common denominator approach.

When a library employs web-scale discovery or a discovery services, this refers to a gathered central index coupled with a richly featured discovery layer that provides a single search across a library’s local, open access, and subscription collections.  Many issues are in play with discovery services; the obvious and most immediate issue is the variability in results (learn more here).

Bento searching is a step forward to simplicity. Bento searches gather all the information the library deems of value and populates results in a digestible manner – little edible tidbits for the user to consume easily. The search tools include not just licensed collections and print, but also web sources, course reserves, books, data stores, repositories, digital archives, video collections, staff directories, library hours, study spaces, and the like. The Bento Boxes are built using open source tools like Apache Solr with Drupal, Blacklight (code contributors from The University of Virginia, Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, and WGBH), and ones developed by the library (e.g. Stanford’s SearchWorks). Some Bento searches augment this megasearch experience with a widget for discovery of content, while others may have a more “traditional” discovery service running behind the scenes.

Regardless of the architecture, Bento Boxes have one thing in common – the benefit of helping users gain quick access to a limited set of results across a variety of resources, services, and tools, while providing links to the full results.

Look for Bento searching to becoming the next big thing in the library world. I’ve listed my favorite library Bento Boxes below. Enjoy!



chef nick and sonAbout the Author

Nick is a proud father, chef, Tolkien nerd, spaghetti-western lover and Whovian (with Tennant tendencies). During the week Nick works as a customer care consultant – providing post-sales consultative services to public and academic libraries and the unsung heroes they employ. On weekends he quests to create the perfect food and booze pairing through innovative gastronomy at his restaurant and catering company based in Ferndale, MI.


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