Discovery: questions & answers

As many of you may know, DUX has been working for nearly a year to implement EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS), and we’re happy to be launching for the fall semester as a new, improved OneSearch@IU.

Let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start, as they say. We’ve asked and answered a lot of questions throughout this process, and this post will focus on a few that I think are most fundamental.

What is a discovery tool, anyway?

Here’s one way of thinking about it: a discovery tool integrates a collection of disparate data sources so that search results are presented as a single, merged set.

How is this different from federated search?

I’m so glad you asked! It’s true, federated search products allow a single query to be simultaneously delivered to multiple information resources, and then collect those results and display them as a single set.  To accomplish this, the tool must generally rely on “translators” which enable communication with the varied sources, with varying levels of success. Also, the ability to include content in the search is dependent on the existence of a translator. In contrast, a discovery tool relies on a unified index created by bringing together data from a wide array of publishers, vendors and other sources (including library catalogs and institutional repositories) into a single integrated set. This results in improved relevancy ranking, and the ability to broaden the scope of searches to include local and subscribed content, and both print and digital materials from an array of disciplines.

This is better how?

While not exactly apples to apples, it’s a whole lot closer – one big set, indexed “all of a piece” improves relevancy across the board to increase the precision of the results returned. Catalog records may be bananas, but it’s a lot easier to properly weight the distribution of bananas and apples if you can put them in a single barrel, then teach the system to recognize them and sort accordingly. (Actually, I think I know what’s bananas – and it’s this illustration.) Also, the discovery tool typically presents an attractive interface designed to meet user expectations for ease-of-use, sharing, and other functions common to commercial sites such as Amazon or Google.

What does EDS include?

A quick answer to that question is: IUCAT records, all EBSCO content, and content from a large number of other vendors & sources (including Wilson, JSTOR, Elsevier, GPO, HathiTrust, Sage, MUSE, Web of Science, Wiley-Blackwell, Alexander Street Press, and others).

Who’s going to use this? Are we aiming this at undergraduates?

Clearly, this sort of tool is likely to appeal to undergraduates with its single search box,  interdisciplinary coverage, lots of full text, and easy export/print/share capabilities. I’d venture to propose that those same features might find fans amongst other user groups. I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that while the ways, or the reasons, that graduate students, faculty and researchers might use this tool may differ from those of undergraduates, there are plenty of use cases for those groups too. Personally I’ve found it very helpful to do a quick survey of what we have on a topic for myself, or at the reference desk – I like being able to easily retrieve articles, books from the collection, and other items with a single search.

Author- Courtney Greene McDonald

Former Head, Discovery & User Experience department. File under: librarian. See also: nerd.