Deep Web Tech Blog

Content Neutrality and Discovery Services

My Biznar alert on Discovery Services recently deposited in my Inbox a link to this ProQuest blog article:  A Guide to Evaluating Content Neutrality in Discovery Services. Although I have written about content neutrality before, most recently in October of 2015, in the blog article: The Last of the Major Discovery Services is Independent no More, because of the ProQuest blog article, I decided to revisit the topic in this blog article.

The blog article by ProQuest linked above and quoted below, raises my main concern about the content neutralneutrality of Discovery Services (EDS, Primo and Summon) that are owned by companies whose main business is selling content:

A concern that some libraries may have is that discovery service providers, that are also content providers, have an intent and vested interest to funnel usage to their content. With the success of online services often based on usage metrics and the fact that the content sales model is driven by the “revenue follows usage” mantra, librarians should well be concerned about content neutrality in discovery services from such dual providers.

Also, in this ProQuest blog article, the author says – “ProQuest and ExLibris reaffirms our commitment to content neutrality in our discovery systems.”

Nowhere, however, have I been able to find any ProQuest write-up that backs up this claim that their Discovery Services are, in fact, content neutral. As one of our former Presidents, Ronald Reagan, was fond of saying – “trust but verify”. With that said, librarians should verify the content neutrality of their Discovery Services.

One test that I would encourage my readers to perform who have purchased a Discovery Service or have access to one is the following: Run 10 queries that cover different subject areas and record for each of the top 10 results where each of these top 10 results are coming from (EBSCO, ProQuest or another publisher). If a large percentage of your top 10 results in EDS are EBSCO results or a large percentage of ProQuest results are being returned by Primo or Summon among your top 10 results, then you have a content neutrality problem. I’d love to see your findings as comments to this blog article.

The NISO Working Group in their Open Discovery Initiative: Promoting Transparency in Discovery report makes a number of recommendations to Discovery Service vendors and librarians to help them evaluate and ensure the content neutrality of a Discovery Service. These recommendations are summarized in ExLibris’ A Guide to Evaluating Content Neutrality in Discovery Systems.

These recommendations include:

  • Non-discrimination among content providers in how results are generated and relevance ranked.
  • Non-discrimination in how links to results are ordered in a result list or made available via a link resolver. A potential problem might be how duplicate records are treated by the Discovery Service.
  • Provide libraries with options to configure how links are labelled and displayed and how links to meta-data and full-text are provided.

In the ExLibris’ Guide, they state that “Content neutrality in a discovery system means that students and researchers are equally exposed to the entire wealth of information from all sources.”

Although, as you might expect, the Discovery Services don’t address the issue that content neutrality is seriously compromised by the inability of their Services to include in their indices ALL of the content that a library has available at the disposal of their students.

So, in conclusion, if you want to ensure the content neutrality of your institution’s Discovery Solution you should seriously consider an Explorit Everywhere! solution.

An Explorit Everywhere! solution provides your users with access to all of the content sources your library has licensed, ranked using our own publisher neutral algorithms (see Ranking: The Secret Sauce for Searching the Deep Web), with the display priority of duplicate results configurable. You might also want to include our partner’s Gold Rush publisher neutral link resolver.