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Our Trek to Discovery: A Tale of Implementation
By ,
Volume 39, Number 2 - March/April 2015

Sip From a Hydrant, Anyone?

We found one of discovery’s options very tempting—we could choose to make the entire central index (which is, of course, just the index, not full-text) searchable. We believe many universities do this since librarians frequently comment about how interlibrary loan (ILL) requests skyrocket after implementation. But we’re a community college. We opted for default results that include only what we have access to in print or electronically. After all, our goal was to enable students to “discover” the content they needed as easily as possible.

One of the excellent benefits of discovery, including the A–Z periodical service, is that the content of that list is “read” by discovery so that it can deliver links to our catalog when we hold a particular issue of a journal, but will not provide the link if we do not. Naturally, this means upkeep. Each time limited holdings change by the removal of issues, the system is manually updated. While not at all difficult, the work must be done diligently for this functionality to perform correctly. This is just one more unplanned piece of maintenance we did not have before. (See Figure 1 at right.)

Discovering the ‘Undiscovery-ed’

But how do we provide access to databases not included in the central index? Initially, the vendor sales representative talked about the “integrated search” to be set up in the right column of the results page. “Integrated search,” in this case, means federated search. During implementation, though, all vendor representatives we had contact with discouraged using the federated search. It is slow. It fails frequently. It does not retain limits chosen for the original search. Librarians polled through the listserv generally said, “We started with it and then turned it off” because it failed too often and/or users did not use it.” (See Figure 2 at right.)

One representative showed us how to create a set of links that, when clicked, created the search in the database of choice in a new window.

Unfortunately, librarians were divided on which option to choose, so we created two profiles and asked users to test out both and give feedback. As a result of the feedback, we eventually chose to set aside federated search and to make use of the other option, labeled “Continue your searching.” (See Figure 3 at right.)

We realized though that the best way to point users to the “neglected” databases was to ensure they had a tool that would introduce the resource at the users’ point of need. This was key to our decision to add LibGuides to our library resources. Now, when someone asks about how to get career information, for example, we point him to the appropriate LibGuide, and it provides links to relevant resources whether or not the resources are included in discovery.

Then there are the oddballs—databases that, by their nature, the kind of content they provide, or how they are designed, are much more effectively delivered outside of discovery. Examples include image databases and those such as SIRS Researcher and Opposing Viewpoints in Context that are arguably more powerful when browsed rather than searched. Both SIRS and Opposing Viewpoints offer extra resources when users click on the topic from the databases’ homepage. So, when these oddballs are included in the central index, we keep them there; however, it is imperative that librarians remember the benefits of using the databases in their “native environment.” Again, LibGuides is a key resource to help point students to the best tool for their question.

Speaking With One Voice (Literally)

The communication management staff members are your friends. What they don’t tell you about implementing a discovery service is that the decisions you’ll need to make and the customization options are almost (but not quite) endless. There is the very real potential to miss the forest for the trees, and even worse, to get stuck staring at one small leaf on one ultimately inconsequential tree far too long. In order to present cohesive information and make decision-making as clear and timely as possible, I (Kelly) volunteered for the role of communication coordinator (after an initial, quite ill-fated attempt to handle issues “on-the-fly”).

Two of us met twice weekly to discuss the implementation timeline, including what was currently being done and the decisions that needed to be made by all librarians at that point. I would then send out a weekly email with two main sections: informational announcements and “your input needed.” Informational announcements would include items such as summaries of webinars attended, discussions from the small meetings, and screen shots of features with explanations—all short and to the point. The “your input needed” section was exactly that—decisions that needed to be made by the librarians to move forward with implementation. This system helped keep all the information and decisions organized and moving forward, while giving librarians the opportunity to learn more about the discovery service and contribute to its creation. When issues were too technical to explain via email, or decisions could not be reached, we had the option of holding in-person librarian meetings. As we all learned more, we found we needed this option less and less.

Who Will Help?

Get informal with your learning. Let’s face it—webinars and vendor-supplied guides are necessary, but not enough. While the webinars from our vendor were integral to learning the basic terminology and technology, at a certain point, they all started to sound the same (possibly because they were all led by the same people!). Devour all the information you get from your vendor, but do not forget to explore what your lovely library peers have done. Find or request a list of libraries which have been through implementation already and do some hands-on learning. Many (though not all) libraries have enabled guest access for their discovery services, giving you the opportunity to explore firsthand the decisions and innovations of other libraries. Search within their interfaces, dive into their facets, figure out how their links to full text work (or where there are issues), and reframe your findings to fit your own organization. If you find one you particularly like, contact the librarians there. Librarians are weird. We like to share. More than one gave us temporary passwords so we could see how the system worked for authenticated users.

Ask everyone! Implementing discovery is hard (or at least confusing), and sometimes your vendor won’t know the answer. Yes, as much as we are paying them, vendors should know. But the vendor isn’t the one doing the implementing, it’s the librarians. So who should you turn to when you have questions that you’re not even sure how to articulate? A friendly librarian, of course! Our vendor’s discovery listserv was an incredibly helpful resource during our discovery service implementation, almost entirely because of the librarians who contributed. Find your vendor’s discovery listservs, wikis, and forums, and find the librarians who will help you as others did for us. Better yet, track down librarians in libraries similar to yours (bonus points if they have the same discovery service and the same ILS), and contact the librarians directly with your questions and/or frustrations. (Hint, hint: Our email addresses are at the bottom of this article.) Throughout our implementation process, every librarian we reached out to with a question took the time to respond and offer suggestions.

Surprise, Surprise …

Now for what you really need to know. There were surprises, and frankly they took virtually as much time and effort to address as the tasks of implementation. These are some of the things we had not prepared for:

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