Discovery layers - Top Tech Trends 2

Lorcan 2 min read

[No 2 of 3. No 1 here.]
I was pleased to participate in LITA’s Top Tech Trends panel at ALA this year (see the video and live coverage).
We were each asked to talk about three trends: current, a bit further out, and a bit further out again. In thinking about the exercise, it seemed to me that it would be interesting to talk about how services are being reconfigured in a network environment, and not just focus on technology as such. This is the second of three blog entries, one devoted to each of my trends. We had three minutes in which to discuss each trend.
I really only decided to talk about my second trend the day before the event. I was influenced by discussions with several people as I wandered around the exhibits hall. Opinions varied as to how important this trend is, but I chose to talk about ‘discovery layers’ because it seems to me that if these become successfully and commonly deployed they have quite far reaching implications.
What do I mean by discovery layer? A discovery layer provides a single point of access to the full library collection across bought, licensed and digital materials. Typically, a single search box is offered alongside a range of other navigation features. Products which support this approach include Worldcat Local, Summon, Primo Central, and the Ebsco Discovery Service, as well as a range of institutional, national or other initiatives.
Working with hindsight ;-), these are the points I meant to make ….

  1. The full library collection. If they develop as anticipated (a real question), the discovery layer will become the view of the library collection for library patrons. In fact, for many users it may actually become the library. This has several consequences:
    • What is not represented in the discovery layer will be much less visible.
    • There will be pressure to incorporate more services into the discovery layer – better fulfilment for example through resource sharing, Google book search, purchase or other options.
    • The integrated discovery experience will more clearly expose lack of integration with services behind, and will drive greater integration. One can see, for example, potentially more interest in the direct-to-content approach of something like PubGet.
    • And as somebody suggested to me afterwards, there will need to be strategies for managing those who resist the loss of a specific database interface.
  2. A driver for other operations. If the discovery layer becomes the central focus for access to collections, then one can imagine discovery patterns begin to affect supporting operations like selection and acquisition. The patron-driven acquisition model is being explored in the ebook market – will it be extended to other licensed materials?
  3. Data wells and the provider landscape. A discovery layer depends on an aggregation of data – a ‘data well’ – which involves considerable coordination costs. These include the processing involved in normalizing the data and the business interactions involved in assembling the data. The level of normalization may vary – how much work, for example, do you do in clustering author names across A&I databases, catalogs, and so on. It does not make sense to do this work too many times, so one might expect a small number of providers to emerge who syndicate ‘data wells‘ to others as well as use them in their own services. It will also be interesting to see how strong the tendency is to use other products from your discovery layer provider – a knowledge base in which to record licensed holdings, a resolver, and so on.
  4. Indirect discovery. It is important to remember that a discovery layer ‘destination’ is a part only of the library user’s discovery experience. Increasingly the library needs to think about how its services are visible to users who discover their information resources in Google, in the course management system, and so on. I discussed some issues in a recent post.
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