Information Today columnist Don Hawkins recently published “A Blunt Assessment of Search Discovery Tools.” Hawkins highlights some concerns that the Montana State University library raised with two discovery services that they experimented with, WorldCat Local and Summon.
- Many records didn’t have OCLC numbers so did not show up in the database.
- Some known items (mainly government documents) were not found.
- The vendor promised a simple implementation, but loading one digital collection was slow.
- Problems occurred in the details: deleted items continued to appear; known item searches may not work.
- Database name searches may require an exact match.
- One experiment resulted in a 29% failure rate for a subject search.
- Sometimes discovery tools search the full text, but not always, and we don’t know when they do.
- Relevance is not good yet.
Ex Libris Chief Librarian Carl Grant raised concerns of his own, but from a different slant. In “Gladiators” to perform sleight-of-hand at Charleston Conference.” Grant makes a pretty strong assertion, referring to EBSCO and Serials Solutions:
These two particular firms are, as Library Journal says, in the “greatest competition” because they are, first and foremost, publishers/aggregators fighting head-to-head for their first line of business, which is content and content aggregation services. The discovery solution is secondary to them and it is shown in numerous ways by their actions.
He proceeds to provide questions to discovery service providers to understand their true motivations. These questions, of course, reflect the interests of discovery service provider Ex Libris. Nonetheless, those exploring discovery services need to ask these questions.
The upshot — federated search isn’t dead yet and discovery services are not the magic bullet the marketing material would have you believe.