March 17, 2018

Hurrah! For Discovery and for Transparency in Discovery | Not Dead Yet

Cheryl LaGuardiaAs a member of the Outreach Team for HOLLIS+ (our new discovery system) I spent some of the last week presenting at and attending open meetings with library staff to demonstrate the new system, which is in beta testing (not yet ready for prime time; coming very soon!). I have read a lot, and heard a lot, about discovery systems and their implementations from library friends and colleagues, and based on their stories I wasn’t sure of exactly what to expect from this one, whether good, bad, or indifferent.

Well, to put it mildly, I am so excited to see HOLLIS+ in action I can barely contain myself, and I can hardly wait ’til its public debut, when I can use it with our researchers. It’s easy to use, it’s fast, and it’s a realistic library alternative to Google Scholar (which so many use, but fail to admit it!). In short: our new tool delivers, and I’m figuring that undergraduate researchers will especially love it (although from discussions I’ve been having about it with other researchers, it sounds like it will be a welcome starting point for them, too). It took a huge team effort from library technology staff and library staff across the university for the system to be selected and implemented in a relatively short period of time, but it’s really paid off; I haven’t been this enthusiastic about a new tool since, well, since online databases came along.

My enthusiasm comes from finally being able to search for books along with journal articles and many other materials in one search, and then being able to access a lot of content directly and immediately from that search. This is something we all know many researchers have longed for forever. Okay, yes, I know that discovery systems don’t replace the depth and breadth of all the files and databases to which libraries have access, and I will continue to feature individual databases in classes and on research guides to get researchers to optimal sources for sophisticated, in-depth searching. But I am finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel in terms of true interoperability—it’s coming from discovery systems, and it’s coming from NISO.

In June 2014, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) announced the publication of a new recommended practice, NISO RP-19-2014, Open Discovery Initiative: Promoting Transparency in Discovery, which “provides specific guidelines on participation in the new generation of library discovery services.” The report “includes guidelines to content providers on disclosure of level of participation, the minimum set of metadata elements provided for indexing, linking practices, and technical formats. Recommendations for discovery service providers address content listings, linking practices, file formats and methods of transfer to be supported, and usage statistics. The document also provides background information on the evolution of discovery and delivery technology and a standard set of terminology and definitions for this technology area” [from the press release].

What does this mean? NISO is setting standards to make it possible for librarians and researchers to know just what is being indexed and linked to via discovery systems (“transparency in discovery”). The usage-statistics support speaks volumes to me, since it will be powerful for libraries to be able to demonstrate increased usage of electronic resources because of the discovery system. But one of the more challenging aspects of implementing such a system at present is describing just what it indexes (and subsequently, what it does not index). So the recommendations for standards concerning content listings, linking practices, and metadata are hugely important so that researchers can know just what they are searching, and what is not there. To achieve true transparency in discovery, more participation from content providers is needed.

This is obviously a complex issue that has been considered and discussed for a long time. If you’d like some background reading about it, I suggest three publications to begin with: an April 21, 2014 article by Marc Parry in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “As Researchers Turn to Google, Libraries Navigate the Messy World of Discovery Tools”; the College & Research Libraries September 2013 article, “Paths of Discovery: Comparing the Search Effectiveness of EBSCO Discovery Service, Summon, Google Scholar, and Conventional Library Resources” by Andrew D. Asher, Lynda M. Duke, and Suzanne Wilson; and the NISO ODI Survey Report from the NISO ODI Working Group, January 2013, Reflections and Perspectives on Discovery Services.

Without transparency and broader participation in providing content for discovery systems, as a colleague puts it: “the user’s the loser.” So kudos to NISO and the ODI Working Group for putting together a set of recommendations to serve as models for industry practice. And kudos to all my wonderful colleagues who are making our discovery system, HOLLIS+, a reality. Talk about a win-win-win!

Read eReviews, where Cheryl LaGuardia and Bonnie Swoger look under the hood of the latest library databases and often offer free database trials

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.