The Discovery Services Platform

Post by Neil Block in EBSCO Discovery Service

It’s always fun to delve back into history and look at the sources of the technology models we know today. The integrated library system (ILS) has its roots back in the 1980s when the library collection consisted of physical material.  Early ILS workflows were created to mimic the manual processes librarians performed to manage holdings. The print catalog and discovery of books (and, to a lesser extent print journals), was at the center of the library workflow. As card catalogs became increasingly machine-readable, the OPAC emerged as a transformational access point to the library’s print collections.

Today, all that has changed in academic libraries. Full-text databases, A&I services, e-journals and e-books are the most used resources in any academic library. The days of print may not be (and may never fully be) behind us, but all things “e” are well established and growing across disciplines. Yet, the transition from print to digital was not without its challenges from both a technology and user experience perspective. In an attempt to fulfill all access needs, complementary — and often disjointed and indeed less than functional — solutions appeared that sought to address the emerging digital workflows and end user requirements.  Think federated search or ”stand-alone” electronic resource management (ERM), for example.

Of course, those days are behind us too. What emerged is a new model in which the discoverability of electronic content (and its management) has taken center stage. EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS), alongside other discovery services, made its appearance beginning in 2010. EDS featured not only a single search box, but a suite of applications to manage content and understand its usage. Here the importance cannot be overstated; with the increasing shift to electronic content and the user experience, discoverability may in fact be the pillar on which the success of the library rests. This then begs the question:  In the new world of all things “e,” where does the ILS/LSP fit?

Let’s start by understanding discovery in a broader sense, and distinguishing between a discovery service, and a discovery services platform (DSP). The DSP extends beyond the discovery service and supports the fundamental shift towards e-resources management and end-user expectations for the discovery of a library’s entire collection. The DSP represents all content types (e-books, databases, IRs, the catalog) from a myriad of sources. It employs a sophisticated architecture for metadata normalization, relevance ranking, configuration and customization. The DSP features a suite of applications to manage ordering, holdings, analytics and more. And it is an open platform: the DSP allows for the integration of the library’s knowledge base of choice, different content sources and different applications. The DSP supports interoperability with multiple presentation layers — both open source and vendor supported — such as VuFind or BlackLight. The DSP also integrates with enterprise applications such as the learning management system (LMS), and of course  the ILS/LSP. 

The role of the ILS/LSP then focuses on users (circulation), the print catalog (cataloging and metadata management), and, in certain cases, print acquisitions. In other words, the ILS/LSP supports traditional functions. In this role, it must exist alongside the DSP in support of core ILS functions, and interoperate in a seamless way through technology (read: APIs) and data exchange protocols.

In looking at the entire picture, libraries have largely made the shift to electronic content, starting with e-journals, full-text databases and, increasingly, e-books. Workflows and end user expectations are following suit. In this evolving landscape, the DSP has taken shape as a comprehensive, open environment in support of the new content and end user model of the digital age.

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