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Are You Experienced?
Exploring User Experience
in Public Libraries
Discovery Systems…to the Rescue?
Going Beyond your ILS-Based OPAC
If you read about ILS failure, you know that
the OPAC seems to be the weak link. Why
is that so?
In brief, the ILS-based OPAC is a silo and
has only its MARC metadata (bibliographic
records, authority records, etc.)…
A MARC record can link to other metadata,
of course, but this other metadata does not
get searched. A well-done MARC record
has excellent, controlled metadata, and a
good search should be able to locate any
But when we search now, we expect to find
things without much effort. And we expect to
find all things associated with our search.
Thank you, Google.
Thus the advent of the Discovery System in
the evolution of library searching.
Get us out of that library silo!
What is a Discovery System?
“A discovery product consists of an interface directed toward the users of a library to find
materials in its collections and subsequently to gain access to items of interest through
the appropriate mechanisms. Discovery products tend to be independent from the
specific applications that libraries implement to manage resources, such as integrated
library systems, library services platforms, repository platforms, or electronic resource
management systems. In most cases they provide access to multiple types of materials,
independently of the management platform involved. Discovery products provide an
interface with search and retrieval capabilities, often with features such as relevancy-
based ordering of search results, facets presented that can be selected to narrow results
according to specific categories, contributors, or date ranges, and tools to identify related
materials or to refine search queries. Discovery products will use mechanisms
appropriate to location, content type and license arrangement to provide access to
materials. These mechanisms might include identifying the current location and status of
a physical item with service options to request the item be held or delivered, to provide
linking or direct viewing or download of articles, chapters, e-books, or other textual items
available electronically, and presentation of digital images or multi-media content.
Discovery products may also have social features that enable library patrons to comment,
review, rate, or recommend content items or to interact dynamically with other patrons.”
Marshall Breeding (librarytechnology.org/discovery/)
Er…what does all that mean?
Think back to the so-called next-generation library
catalogs ca. 2007 that promised such new features
as federated searching, faceted navigation,
relevancy ranking, the did-you-mean? feature,
RSS, and more.
Features that the traditional ILS-based OPAC did
not deliver before then but that everyone on the
web was getting used to!
But OPACs did start to include
Why not then stick with the good ‘ol OPAC?
“…online catalogs eventually became less useful as
libraries became increasingly invested in materials that
were not directly represented in the ILS and as search and
navigation capabilities became popular on other websites
that made the interfaces within the online catalog seem in
comparison much less modern and more difficult to use.“
-- Breeding, Marshall. (2014). Discovery product
functionality. Library Technology Reports.
The advent of discovery
Libraries got more holdings that were not in their
ILS database…and patrons began to expect to find
Discovery interfaces that could work independently
of an ILS were developed.
But how did they work without
direct communication with the
--A Discovery interface worked with its own index
as well as exported ILS records: a new index
independent of the ILS
Why was this process
Records had to be loaded and then synchronized.
The Discovery interface results were thus often out
of date until further synchronization.
What was needed for the process to improve?
--Real-time transactions needed to be reflected in
Discovery interface results. Communication with
the ILS was imperative.
Enter the Discovery
Interface Task Group
“In 2007-2008, the DLF convened a Task
Group to recommend standard interfaces for
integrating the data and services of the
Integrated Library System (ILS) with new
applications supporting user discovery.”
Solutions were proposed…
In 2008 the Task Group proposed four levels of
1. Basic discovery interface depending on "handoffs"
2. Elementary OPAC supplement that still depends heavily
on the ILS
3. Elementary OPAC alternative that takes care of all but
4. Robust or domain-specific discovery platforms, which
fully replace the online catalog of the ILS
But technology moved forward…
…and expectations developed beyond the
proposed levels 1 thru 3 when the web
(Google!) already offered:
• Simple search features
• Relevancy rankings
• Did-you-mean? capability, etc…
And the “library” evolved…
Even public libraries began to accumulate
what could not easily be included in the ILS-
based OPAC silo:
• Digital objects, etc.
Metasearching offered some hope…but…
Metasearching fell out of favor
Metasearching (searching more than one
source at a time) depended on real-time
responses from multiple targets…an
inadequate model because of the immense
ca. 2009 a new model was developed
Indexes could be created from the content of
content providers (targets)…
Users could search these harvested indexes
more efficiently than by metasearching.
Proper content was delivered upon demand.
Just like how Google works.
From Discovery to
Google seems to index the entire web (it does not
metasearch), so why can’t a Discovery service
also become web-scale?
i.e., web-scale Discovery “applies to the discovery
services that, usually through massive indexes,
aim to represent the full body of library content.”
--Breeding, Marshall. (2014). Discovery product
functionality. Library Technology Reports.
The challenge of web-scale?
Goal: provide access to all the library’s local and
remote resources (subscribed resources and
locally managed resources)
• A web-scale discovery service must partner with
content providers to deliver licensed content
(citation metadata or full text)
• Content providers must partner with web-scale
discovery services to makes their resources
…and the final challenge?
Coordination and communication with the
traditional ILS database was still necessary
in order to reflect real-time activity.
Web-scale Discovery vs
A web-scale Discovery service must:
• harvest content from remote providers
• harvest content from the local ILS
• provide real-time library service (check
out, place holds, etc.)
Have we moved from the
OPAC to Discovery?
Many products compete to deliver what users want
(and OPACS are rebranding themselves as
So what do users expect from them?
See the following list of Discovery System features
compiled by Chickering, William and Sharon Q.
Yang. (2014). Evaluation and comparison of
discovery tools: an update. Information Technology
& Libraries 33(2): 5-30.
Discovery System Features
• One-stop searching
• State-of-the-art interface
• Enriched content
• Faceted navigation
• Simple keyword search box
• Recommendations/related materials
Discovery System Features (cont.)
• User contribution
• RSS feeds
• Integration with social networking sites
• Persistent links
• Mobile compatibility
Can we diagram these things?
The traditional ILS-based OPAC does not search beyond
what is in the ILS database. A library’s holding are MARC-
based records in this database.
Can we diagram these things?
The Discovery System harvests and indexes metadata from the ILS
database and other sources. Patrons search this index before going
further. The Discovery System also communicates with the ILS in real
time to reflect item status (e.g., availability).
See Library technology Guides for Discovery
A Discovery Product does not replace the
complete ILS (it will not catalogue for you,
for example!). But it can replace – or
supplement – the ILS OPAC.
For example…compare the following. Here
are some libraries where you can use the
“classic OPAC” as well as the new OPAC:
The New York Public Library uses
Innovative’s (iii) Sierra as an ILS, and iii’s
WebPacPro was its OPAC:
But now a Discovery product, Bibliocommons,
has become the new “OPAC”:
Berkeley Public Library uses Innovative’s
Millennium and still has its WebPac Pro:
But it also uses Innovative’s Discovery
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library
uses Sirsi’s Horizon ILS with its OPAC:
But it also uses AquaBrowser as a
In case you want some
Discovery Tools: A Bibliography
And just expect to hear more about
Discovery Systems in the future…