There is more to discovery than you think ...

: Read in 3 minutes

Colleagues at the University of Minnesota have produced another must-read report on the discoverability of library resources [Splash page, PDF]. Importantly, it provides a framework within which to think about evolving issues and in this way makes a real contribution to our understanding of the environment and ability to plan for change.
Much of the ‘discovery discussion’ has settled on a new library service category, the discovery layer. Think of Worldcat Local, Primo Central, Summon and the Ebsco Discovery Service. These have been usefully described by Jason Vaughan in a recent report.
However, these are a part only of the broader discovery environment. The crucial word here is environment, because, as noted by the authors of this report, a single system or service will not address all requirements.
One environmental development in recent years has been the emergence of what I have called an inside-out requirement alongside an outside-in requirement. Libraries have managed an outside-in range of resources: they have acquired books, journals, databases and other materials and provided discovery systems for their local constituency over what they own or license. This has resulted in our familiar array of catalogue, resolver, metasearch, and now the integration apparatus of the discovery layer.
Of course, the institution also produces a range of information resources: digitized images or special collections, learning and research materials, research data, administrative records (website, prospectuses, etc), and so on. And how effectively to disclose this material is of growing interest across the insititutions of which the library is a part.

Think, for example, of a distinction between outside-in resources, where the library is buying or licensing materials from external providers and making them accessible to a local audience (e.g. books and journals), and ‘inside-out’ resources which may be unique to an institution (e.g. digitized images, research materials) where the audience is both local and external. Thinking about an external non-institutional audience, and how to reach it, poses some new questions for the library. [Outside-in and inside-out]

The discovery dynamic varies across these types of resources. The contribution of the University of Minnesota report is to try to explain that dynamic and develop response strategies.
So, among the issues they address are:

  • An inventory of institutionally managed or created resources. What is the audience of each? Which need to be disclosed to the external world? How?
  • An inventory and categorization of external aggregator services (e.g. Worldcat, Repec, Arxiv, Flickr, Merlot, Google, etc). To which should internal resources be disclosed, and how? Which services aggregate metadata, which aggregate content itself? Which are of interest to local audiences? Which should be integrated into local discovery systems (maybe Hathi Trust, for example)?
  • A categorization of user personas, stylised descriptions of particular usage patterns. I was particularly interested to see the chart on page 13 which looks at some differences between undergraduate, graduate and faculty search behaviors. They recognize that discovery systems may need to be scoped to particular user categories. Although it is not explored in detail, they also note the need to support manipulation and personal curation of digital resources.
  • A review of practices at other libraries.
  • A review of metadata associated with internal resources.

An important feature is that the general discussion is tied back to the particular requirements of the University of Minnesota, which means that the relevance to other institutions should be clearer.
On a small note, I was interested in the pattern they established throughout the report to describe resources:

The vision of a new discovery environment, that surfaced from the work of the phase 2
Discoverability group, suggests that a synthesis of tools and services need to be coordinated
in such a way to enable users to discover, access, and interact with relevant data from
internal, external, owned, licensed, and freely-available data sources.

Describing resources as owned, licensed and freely-available is probably more helpful than the print/electronic/digital schematic that is sometimes used, as it recognises a crucial element of workflow/supply chain difference that plays into how systems are built and used. (I discussed some of these issues in a Portal article a while ago, Reconfiguring the Library Systems Environment.)
This is a report everybody should read ….
Full disclosure: I spoke about Discovery and Delivery at the University of Minnesota Libraries Planning Speaker Series. This series was one input into the Libraries’ interesting Strategic Priorities document: Supporting the life cycle of knowledge [PDF].
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