Web scale discovery – Is it time for a change in public libraries?

You can’t work in libraries and fail to hear customers say (often) “It’s so hard to look for books on this catalogue!” or “Why won’t your catalogue show me books AND dvds AND magazines on my topic? or “Why do I have to go to a different page to read this article or download this eBook?”.

Then most often of all “Can you just search this for me .. I can’t make it work!!!!”

Web scale discovery is ” A single-line form, the consolidated index, which represents a very large portion of a library’s print and online collection”.

Well that is the technical explanation!  Simply put web scale discovery is just like Google!

This YouTube Clip simply explains how web scale discovery works

If you are interested in the technicalities of how web scale discovery works  Athena Hoeppner provides a good discussion of the concepts behind the one line search.

Helen Edwards discusses the key features identified by Professor John Ackroyd:

  • Simple Google like search box
  • Ranking to organise results
  • Enhanced searchability: use of authors, formats, main topics.
  • Click through to full text content
  • Branding customisation for libraries.
  • Personalisation – saved searches and email, social discovery
  • Single sign up to all databases.

Web scale discovery (or at least aspects of it) has been used for many years in some academic libraries by sites such as EBSCO’s Discovery Service (EDS) (www.ebscohost.com/discovery). It is discussed here that “results by early adopters seem promising, reversing the download trends of usage, average usage of the top 100 journals increased by 42% and for the top 1000 journals it was 82%”,

Sounds great but is it for public libraries?

As Aaron Tay discusses

” A couple of years ago, libraries were excited by the idea of “next generation catalogues” that included “Web 2.0″ features like tagging, submission of reviews, facets etc. Libraries were purchasing products like Encore, Aquabrowser, Primo… It was believed that such modern looking interfaces would win some of our users back from Amazon and maybe even Google. However, next generation catalogues so far have failed to live up to their hype and have not done much to turn things around, the trend of users going for google and amazon if anything has accelerated”.

…….and, be honest, I know that is how many public librarians are thinking!

It is worth considering the benefits and limitations discussed by Helen Edwards when she likens ” libraries themselves to black holes, pointing out that while it is possible to find out all about any film ever made on the Internet, there is still no reliable way of linking to a book – if you don’t count Amazon”.

If you do decide to implement web scale discovery check out ‘Encore Duet’ offered by Innovative Interfaces (they may already provide your Library Management software ‘Sierra’).  “Innovative has forged partnerships with content providers so Encore libraries can integrate a full range of resources. Library users can initiate eBook checkouts and place holds for eBooks directly in the Encore environment”

My Verdict

Although Web scale discovery is yet another invention of our customer catalogue interface our current solution is not user friendly.  It is not well used by customers (adding to additional pressure on library staff to perform even basic for customers).  The ‘google like’ interface is familiar to the majority of our customers and consideration should be given to implementing this solution.

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