Earlier this year, EBSCO Publishing (www.ebscohost.com) announced its plans for two ambitious new search services that would be built on the EBSCOhost platform. EBSCOhost Integrated Search (EHIS), the company's new federated search service, has been in testing for several months and was just launched at the ALA Annual conference (see www.ebscohost.com/integrate for more info). The service had nearly 20 paying library customers even before its official release. And the EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) announced in April should start beta testing this fall with the goal to launch by the end of the year (www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=1&topicID=1245). (For details, see the NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/New-Discovery-Tools-for-Online-Resources-From-OCLC-and-EBSCO-53468.asp.) EBSCO has just announced that additional partners have signed on to participate in EDS to provide libraries with a single, simple entry point for research into the entire array of a library's collection. EDS will harvest metadata from internal and external sources, creating a centralized preindexed service.
Mike Gorrell, senior vice president and CIO of EBSCO Publishing, stresses that the key advantage of both services is the power and strength of the underlying EBSCOhost platform. "The EBSCOhost user experience is so strong that it makes sense [to employ it] for other tasks." He added, "We feel good about what we're doing. We put a lot of time and effort into our usability studies." He says that the positive feedback from users at the ALA conference "validated our assumptions." At the event, the company held several informative luncheons with key market groups and also met with its advisory groups.
The company says EHIS takes federated searching to a new level. According to EBSCO, traditional federated search products suffer from four problem areas:
- Limited features and functionality
- Slow search speeds
- Weak customer service
- High costs associated with annual fees and individual connector costs
Gorrell says that the easy-to-use features and functionality within EBSCOhost-and EHIS-provide users with a simple and intuitive starting place for integrated searching. Features of EHIS include subject clustering, publication clustering, results sorting by relevancy or date, a date slider limiter, custom links, and more. "The tools are richer, and we've tuned our solution to give the best data and best user experience to the end user."
EHIS uses a tiered approach to viewing results that enables fast information retrieval for the top resources as determined by each library. The top tier of sources is shown first in the results list while a second tier of sources is searched in the background. Users are no longer forced to wait for the slowest resources to determine when results will be returned-eliminating the lowest common denominator issue. In addition, because EBSCOhost databases are often such a large part of an installation, the databases are "local" and users get both speed and low cost. There are no connector fees for libraries to connect to EBSCOhost databases. There are flat fees per connector for connecting to other providers.
EHIS allows libraries to integrate all of their electronic resources into one central location, eliminating end-user confusion and providing librarians with additional resources. These resources are delivered via a platform the librarians already know, so training is not an issue. Librarians use EBSCOadmin to set up databases in EHIS. It is also used to customize the way users see and access EHIS, to generate usage reports and label the databases to make searching easier for the end user. Access may be provided through a search box on the library's website or via the EBSCOhost interface.
The library at Our Lady of the Lake University in Texas will begin a subscription to EHIS in August. Ebony Fondren, collection management and web librarian, says, "[W]e are always looking for ways to improve services for our students. We have seen demos of the product and think it will be much easier and more user friendly than our previous federated search engine. We like that the same search options available in the EBSCO databases will also be available in Integrated Search. Along with being able to simultaneously search all of the EBSCO databases we subscribe to, our students and faculty will also be able to search eighteen non-EBSCO databases. A few include JSTOR, Credo Reference, ComDisDome, and Literature Online (ProQuest)."
Emily Miller-Francisco, e-resource systems and web coordinator at the Hannon Library of Southern Oregon University, says her library has chosen EHIS to replace another federated search product that has been in testing for the past year "but wasn't working well for us." The library became a beta site for EHIS in April; it plans to roll the service out in time for the fall semester. EBSCO is the main database provider used by the library, so EBSCOhost is the most familiar environment for its users. She says that some of the library's non-EBSCO databases aren't receiving the use they deserve, so having the common and familiar interface should prove very valuable. She says the librarians like the search capabilities in EHIS, particularly the more-advanced search features and the limiting functions.
The forthcoming EBSCO Discovery Service will allow for "local" access to the metadata from EBSCO's databases, ejournals from more than 400 publishers, and additional resources from other partners, including OCLC, NewsBank, Readex, Alexander Street Press, and, the most recent addition, LexisNexis. EDS will enable users to search a wide-ranging collection of metadata and to link quickly to the content to which they have rights.
EBSCO Publishing president Tim Collins says, "We are very excited about how EDS has progressed in terms of both functionality and content partners. We've been overwhelmed by the response from information publishers interested in becoming part of this comprehensive discovery solution."
As I mentioned in the April NewsBreak that covered the new discovery tools from OCLC and EBSCO, providing a single point of access to a broad range of library materials seems to be emerging as the Holy Grail of the library world. A key player in this discovery tool competition is Summon from Serials Solutions, which just announced the first commercial adoption of the service and a number of new providers, including LexisNexis, Publishing Technology (IngentaConnect), and ISI Web of Science. Along with its key partners ProQuest and Gale, the Summon service now includes more than 6,000 contributors with nearly half a billion records indexed in a single content store.
Library automation expert Marshall Breeding handily sums up the sea change that is happening with these new discovery products. "The major change that enables this breakthrough involves a relenting of the stranglehold of publishers and providers of content. Until recently, few were willing to allow wholesale access to the content held within their information products. That left the primary means of discovery outside their native interfaces the far-from-elegant approach of metasearch that incessantly hammered their servers with a very low possibility of connecting a user to their content. The new paradigm of pre-populated indexes involves the risk of wholesale exposure of their key assets, yet stands to increase the use of their products through a more efficient search model."
Participating in a Primo Solution
EBSCO Publishing also announced an agreement with Ex Libris (www.exlibrisgroup.com) that enables EBSCOhost subscribers that use the Primo discovery and delivery solution from Ex Libris to offer their users seamless access to EBSCOhost electronic content via a new Primo component, Primo Central (beta is planned for the end of 2009). In return, mutual users will be able to access the catalogs of the Voyager and Aleph integrated library systems as well as other software services provided by Ex Libris via the EBSCOhost experience. Gorrell says, "At this time, when libraries are looking to get leverage from all of their purchases, we're happy to provide another channel to direct users into the rich databases they buy from EBSCO."
Even though Primo is a competing product to EDS, Gorrell emphasizes that the company wants EBSCOhost content to be available on whatever platform a customer wants to use. "Yes, we'll compete in some situations but customers will drive the choices. It's a win-win for everyone."
EBSCO also has a partnership with OCLC (www.oclc.org) that makes content available to mutual customers. As part of the WorldCat.org Partner Program, EBSCO's content is more visible to library patrons through WorldCat Local, the OCLC service based on the WorldCat.org platform that connects library users to local, regional, and global library resources through a single search box. EBSCO in turn is providing its EBSCOhost users with seamless access to WorldCat content.
All of these cooperative agreements among competitors are good for libraries and their users. In a time of intense budgetary pressures, making content more visible and usable will serve to extend and justify a library's investments.