Posted by: mhdiaz | April 11, 2011

Emerging Trends in Library Discovery Solutions


This guest post is the final segment of a six-part series from Jane Burke,  Discovery and the User Experience, which focuses on the latest developments in discovery and their potential to impact academic library user communities.

 I hope that you have enjoyed the series and look forward to your comments. Mike

I’ve just come home from ACRL.   It was a great place to get a sense of what happening with our topic – Discovery.  It was everywhere!    This product category has really moved front and center since being introduced two years ago.

One sign of the popularity is that even products that aren’t really wide-scale discovery products are adopting the name.  Real “Discovery” provides single search across a wide variety of library resources, from multiple providers.   While some providers are calling their own products “discovery”, that’s not the product space we are talking about.  We are talking about – all of us – the ability to do a single search across all of the quality resources from the library.

Because of the severity of what I’ve called the Problem, libraries are embracing the notion of Discovery.  As we seek to stay relevant, we must move toward our users and offer them ways to explore our rich library resources that meet their expectations for web searching.  In an ACRL session that I attended on the latest developments in Discovery, it was clear that everyone has been waiting for the right tools to do this.

Because Discovery has caught on so fast and is changing so rapidly, I wanted to give some insight into some of the emerging trends that I am seeing right now:

  • Disrespect for Federated Search – As we look at the newer Discovery offerings, federated search pales by comparison.  Despite the fact that it is affordable technology to search across multiple databases, the new Discovery services highlight the deficiencies of the first Discovery solution.  I predict that federated search will not go away, but will be repositioned as an embedded search, across a limited number of related resources. 
  • Tension between new functionality and usability – “Feature creep” among key providers is typical behavior as competition intensifies, but for Discovery, this could be a particularly dangerous trend.  Like the days when we chose an ILS, we are starting to focus on little details, especially of the interface.  We need to be careful of this.   If we force the suppliers to put in all of the esoteric widgets, the interface will get “gunked up.”   Remember that Google is the real competition for end users.  A minimalist interface is what they expect.  And they won’t use all of those little functions anyway – facets are about as far as we should go.  Focus instead on true relevance ranking of scholarly resources.
  • Less emphasis on coverage – A year ago most of the questions to Discovery vendors were about content coverage.  We could not believe that Discovery systems really could get metadata from all of our suppliers.  Questions reflected that disbelief.  Now we seem to take complete – or nearly complete – coverage for granted.
  • Leap to Full Text Indexing of Books – (Note:  Here comes the Summon commercial.)  I have been careful to neutrally discuss the Problem and the category, but I do love Summon.  I was lucky enough to be involved in the initial development, and I admit that I am passionate about Summon.   Because of its Google-like architecture, I think Summon best meets end user expectations.  With the addition of discovery across the full text of books, resulting from the Summon agreement with HathiTrust, Discovery takes another big step forward. 

One of the reasons for the big increase in ebook purchases by libraries is the ability to search the full text of the book.   But with individual ebooks, the user still needs to know which book to search.   By making the full text searchable in the discovery service, the user can find the concept in the full text that discovers the book.   This is a huge step forward in Discovery – from Summon.

These trends indicate that Discovery is not a fad.  It is a real product category that is addressing a real need – the Problem.  

Libraries matter.  We all care about the importance of libraries to the research process.   That means we need to make our value easier and faster to “discover”.   To do that, your library needs a Digital Front Door.  Please implement a Discovery Service for your library.

In conclusion, I have both enjoyed and struggled with this series of comments.  Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you.


%d bloggers like this: