User Central: The Discovery Services Platform

Post by Neil Block in EBSCO Discovery Service

Much has happened technology-wise in the course of the last decade. For those of us old enough to remember the pre-email era, the change has been fascinating. We are now surrounded by technologies that define much of our daily lives.  What seems a truism may in fact be true: much of what’s available to us today focuses on us, the users. We expect, and often get, the best possible interfaces and the best possible experiences. We buy products from companies that know us. And we only engage with products that are intuitive and easy to use.

These expectations, of course, mean that anyone serving customers or developing new products should take note. Do we meet user expectations? Are we aligned with user behaviors?  Is the user the true focus of our efforts? The need to meet and exceed expectations is more than a nice-to-have. It’s a must in world in which we compete with the company or institution next door that claims to do “it” even better.

Libraries, and library automation vendors, are of course not immune to competition. We want to serve our customers and ensure “loyalty” and “repeat business.”   Most libraries of course acknowledge as much in their mission statement by calling out the need to provide a superior user experience in support of their users’ research needs.  And as vendors, we are more than aware that our products must fully support the goals that our customers have set for themselves. 

Putting the user first is not trivial. As libraries and as vendors we started the shift toward a new user-centric model a few years back.  Witness the emergence of next-generation catalog interfaces, and first-generation discovery services that replaced the old OPAC. Yet, deploying just a discovery service, or a single-search box, is not sufficient in and of itself. There is a lot of complexity behind the service that must be extremely well executed: integrating a global knowledgebase; linking out to full text; serving up a relevant result for every search conducted against billions of records; addressing and meeting the needs of many different kinds of users.

This complexity comes together in a discovery services platform, like EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS). The discovery services platform needs to link into institutional systems such as the integrated library system (ILS), learning management system (LMS) or customer relationship management (CRM) applications. Libraries wouldn’t think of implementing a new ILS without considering all of the factors involved in making a successful transition; when upgrading to a discovery services platform, consideration of the above criteria should be taken into account to ensure the successful user outcome we all seek. Now, we are able to see the benefits from next-generation discovery, such as EDS, that deliver a modern experience for library users.

A “user first” mentality means looking at the complexities that lie behind serving the user, and assessing a discovery service based on its ability to truly meet user needs. It means shifting our attention away from back-end processes, to front-end experiences and outcomes.  It entails recognizing that the ecosystem of discovery-related software belongs at the centre of the library technology infrastructure and asking how everything else flows from there. In all, it means looking at the solution that best resolves a problem: how to retain our users and grow our customer base. 

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