Archive for the "discovery service" Category


Articles on Discovery lists a number of categorized resources about discovery services. Categories include:

  • Basics
  • Historical
  • Presentations by vendors
  • Debates
  • Library experiences, evaluations & case studies
  • Misc comments on other issues
  • Wikis/rough notes
  • Hacking
  • Webcasts (not free)

This great resource page includes more than fifty links to articles on the subject.

I highly recommend that libraries interested in discovery services give extra attention to the articles in the debates and library experiences sections so that they can learn about the technology with their eyes wide open.

You can access my writings about discovery services here.


The Pegasus Librarian published yesterday a blog article: Heads they win, tales we lose: Discovery tools will never deliver on their promise. That’s a pretty strong statement about discovery services but I don’t think the title exaggerates. If you are on the fence about the industry do take a few minutes to read the article.

I’ve raised the concern more than once about how users of discovery services are at the whim of the service owners who are providing them with access to content. Check out all articles tagged with “discovery service” in this blog or these articles in particular:

  • What a mess!. My radar (Google Alerts) pointed me this morning to this article by Barbara Quint at Information Today. My first response to “EBSCO Exclusives Trigger Turmoil” was “What a mess!” Quint shares the saga of EBSCO and Gale lobbing volleys at each other during the ALA Midwinter meeting. EBSCO announces new acquisitions that were ‘exclusive to EBSCO for the library “marketspace.”‘ Major competitor Gale issued a letter to the library community urging “librarians to get involved in opposing publishers granting exclusives, at least to EBSCO.” Read Quint’s article for all the gory details. …
  • Carl Grant on bypassing the library. There are two issues here. What value do librarians bring to their patrons and do discovery services erode that value? Carl’s latest piece on these subjects looks at the question of “how libraries might get bypassed in the context of e-book supply strategies.” He gives three criteria he believes libraries need to carefully consider when selecting a discovery tool (or e-content): “content-neutrality”, “deep-search and/or metasearch support,” and “The ability to load and search databases unique to your user’s information needs.” …
  • Beyond federated search? The danger with relying on any one service to provide you with access to its indexed content is that the service’s criteria for source selection may not be yours. That’s why I recommend hybrid solutions to get the most out of indexed content and the freedom of including federated sources of your choosing as well.

And then we read about the mess with EBSCO pulling out of Ex Libris’ Primo Central:

As you may know, for the past eighteen months, we have been indexing in Primo Central a number of the EBSCO databases. EBSCO has now changed their strategy and will no longer permit third-party discovery services to load and index their content. Therefore, starting 1st January 2011 we will cease hosting of the EBSCO content in the Primo Central Index. EBSCO will, however, permit our use of a specialized API to search the EBSCO content ‘just-in-time’.

Read a fresh if unsettling perspective on discovery services at the Pegasus blog.


Resource Shelf alerted me to research by Harvard Professor Benjamin Edelman: “Hard-Coding Bias in Google “Algorithmic” Search Results.” Edelman, who discloses that he consults for companies who compete with Google (which I do as well, consulting for this blog’s sponsor Deep Web Technologies), writes about the disconnect between Google’s commitment to providing unbiased results and its efforts to keep its users on its own properties.

A cynical user might expect Google to prominently link to its own services. After all, keeping users on Google properties means more opportunities to show ads — hence greater revenue. And every click Google sends through a no-cost algorithmic link is a lost revenue opportunity.

But on numerous occasions, Google has promised not to succumb to temptation to bias its search results. To the contrary, Google has committed to provide users with the best possible links, chosen fairly and even-handedly.

I have to admit that I was a bit surprised to see such an article about Google biasing some search results with its own content since I expect Google and every other search engine that is driven by search revenue to feature its results first. What was surprising to me, though, was how strong Google’s promise was “not to succumb to temptation to bias its search results.”

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Carl Grant indirectly led me to a presentation by Jane Burke, Senior VP at ProQuest, at the Charleston Conference. Adam at the K-State Libraries Blog provided a nice summary of Burke’s talk:

Burke presented on web scale searching solutions for libraries. The presentation was founded on some firsthand research by Serials Solutions into the research habits of students. This research basically showed that library pages were essentially impenetrable and unusable with their siloed databases and indexes, lingo, and high learning curve for users. The web scale solutions Burke proposed generally include full content indexing of library holdings (catalog, aggregated content, hosted content, IR, etcetera) and searching with a single box interface ala Google. Watch for these solutions which are hitting the market.

Here are two telling quotes from a recent research study cited in the presentation:

“It is also clear from teacher and student responses in the study that the library is seen as an intimidating and inconvenient place, especially and interestingly in its primary purpose - supporting student research and often assisting students in the identification, location, and evaluation of sources.”


“We also concede it is understandable that students are drawn to using search engines on the Internet to conduct academic research. These engines are easy to use, available to anyone with an Internet connection, and quick and bountiful in their returns.”

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What a mess!

Author: Sol

My radar (Google Alerts) pointed me this morning to this article by Barbara Quint at Information Today. My first response to “EBSCO Exclusives Trigger Turmoil” was “What a mess!” Quint shares the saga of EBSCO and Gale lobbing volleys at each other during the ALA Midwinter meeting. EBSCO announces new acquisitions that were ‘exclusive to EBSCO for the library “marketspace.”‘ Major competitor Gale issued a letter to the library community urging “librarians to get involved in opposing publishers granting exclusives, at least to EBSCO.” Read Quint’s article for all the gory details.

If you’re a librarian running or contemplating a discovery service, how do you feel? EBSCO has some new content I assume is going to become available via their EBSCO Discovery Service and some content is going to disappear from Gale’s holding which I assume means it will disappear from Serials Solutions’ Summon discovery service which includes Gale as a major participant.

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I so much enjoy Carl Grant’s writings. Last month I got to meet Carl in person at the Enterprise Search Summit conference where I led a panel on federated search that he was a member of. I have to say I enjoy Carl in person every bit as much as I do via email and phone. And, we had a great dinner at a Cuban restaurant in San Jose.

A few weeks ago Carl authored an article at the ExLibris Blog: Another facet of the “library bypass strategies.” Here’s a piece of it.

[A concern] is in the area of e-content and discovery products which are being offered to the library marketplace. Increasingly, these are offered as pre-packaged solutions with a discovery interface and with databases from a select number of organizations. But there are some real differences in the offerings and librarians need to be careful how they select and implement this technology.

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Laura of the Llyfrgellydd Blog posts some observations about the implementation of Summon at Grand Valley State University. Here are the highlights of her points. See the article for more detail:

  • One does not have a choice about the content in a discovery service.
  • To my knowledge, only one index can be searched through Summon.
  • Because you’re working with a single index, there doesn’t seem to be a way to tell which source a particular search result has come from.
        It could throw off your database statistics.
        It limits discovery of specific databases.

And, a couple of caveats.

  1. With the exception of my second point above, these all seem to me to be very “librarian” issues. Yes, they will effect the user – but are these things that most of our users are going to care about? Honestly, I don’t think so.
  2. As I noted above, my place of work is the first commercial adopter of Summon. To my knowledge, Ebsco’s discovery product isn’t live yet. My point is that discovery services are still a pretty young technology – there’s a lot of potential for improvement and change in the coming months (and years).


Discovery services have begun to spring up. This article is my attempt to catalog and characterize them. Consider this article to be an introduction that sets the stage for future analysis articles.

What is a discovery service?

A discovery service is a search interface to pre-indexed meta data and/or full text documents. Discovery services differ from federated search applications in that discovery services don’t search live sources. By searching pre-indexed data discovery services return search results very quickly. Discovery services are touted as an evolution beyond federated search and in some ways they are. Some discovery services either provide integration with federated search or provide an API for others to do the integration. I believe that hybrid “federated discovery” services are likely to prevail over pure discovery services and I will dedicate an article to them.

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My fur was raised when I saw Serials Solutions’ claim that their discovery service was an evolutionary step beyond federated search. I raised my concerns a couple of times: here and here. My beef isn’t with Serials Solutions as a business, it’s with their position that it’s fine to not search content that they don’t provide access to. There’s no room (yet) in their discovery service model to include access to quality content that can only be searched live, i.e. via federated search. Carl Grant joined the conversation and various people commented, making the topic a very lively one.

My concern was, and is, that libraries and research organizations would consider giving away their responsibility to select quality sources for their patrons for what I imagine to be two primary reasons: (1) library patrons don’t like to wait 30 seconds for federated search results, and (2) (possibly) cost savings. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the Google generation. Even though I’m an American and my culture has taught me that immediate gratification is a good thing I think 30 seconds is a small price to pay to see better results. Cost I can’t speak to as I don’t have any figures.

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[ Editor's note: In this guest article, Carl Grant adds his contribution to the discussion I started in Beyond Federated Search? and continued in Beyond federated search? The conversation continues. Be sure to read those two articles before reading Carl's response. Also, check out the comments on the two articles.

Carl Grant is President of Ex Libris North America. With more than a quarter century of experience in the library-automation industry, I'm grateful for his periodic and very popular contributions to this blog. ]

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