Deep Web Tech Blog

The Tough Choice: Abstaining from Discovery Services

Lots of libraries are doing it, sneaking off one day and subscribing to a discovery service. And after all, they’re catering to a new generation of researchers. The Google generation obsessively searches for everything – from restaurants to their next date. Many libraries are adopting discovery services as their new search of choice because it works fast and it’s good enough to give their undergrads something to work with that feels familiar. But, obsessive searching doesn’t necessarily mean good research.

Romanticized as the tool that will change researcher’s lives, discovery services are certainly intoxicating to think about. However, as some libraries are learning (and many of them are now our customers), subscribing to a discovery service doesn’t always shine the light deep enough into all of a library’s subscription information.

Fact: Discovery services arose, in part, from the resulting dissatisfaction of using those clunky old federated search tools back in the early part of this century. Federated search garnered a tough rap back in those days. However, just like the music industry, evolving from cassette tapes to CDs to MP3s to iPods, Federated Search has evolvedredpill-bluepill as well. We consider Explorit Everywhere! the “next-generation” federated search. Explorit Everywhere! gives you a solid research foundation with plenty of bling to make your heart go pitter-patter. But, first and foremost, it’s about serious research.

Marshall Breeding, in his NISO whitepaper “The Future of Library Resource Discovery”, states “While there has been a major shift toward reliance on central indexes in support of discovery and away from technologies such as federated search, the change is not universal. Some institutions and projects have made deliberate choices to not adopt the index-based discovery model. 

Stanford University, for example, has opted not to implement one of the commercial index-based discovery services. Even as one of the top research libraries in the world, it has not seen a great deal of interest from its patrons in having them acquire one of the commercial products”

Stanford happens to be an Explorit Everywhere! customer. It’s no coincidence that Stanford, as well as other top-notch research organizations, such as University College of Cork, abstain from discovery services. We’ve spoken of many reasons to steer clear from discovery services in previous blog posts, but for those still undecided, here is a good question to ask:

Who is your audience?

If your audience expects a vanilla solution that performs like Google and searches “enough” of your resources to get some decent looking results, then by all means, take the blue pill. But if your audience is comprised of serious researchers who need a comprehensive search of all of your sources, then we suggest abstaining from discovery services and find out how deep your information sources go.

Oh, and vendor neutrality? Try swallowing this pill: now that ProQuest is purchasing ExLibris, all three major discovery service vendors are owned by content publishers. Imagine where that puts results from your third-party sources or even information from competing discovery service vendors (the EBSCO-ProQuest conundrum).

One of our customers recently made this comparison: Discovery services are like a key to a storeroom full of goodies while Federated Search is like an archaeological dig. The more you dig, the more you find.  

So here’s your tough choice: Obsessive searching, or serious finding?