In April 2009, in reporting on newly announced discovery services from OCLC and EBSCO (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/New-Discovery-Tools-for-Online-Resources-From-OCLC-and-EBSCO-53468.asp), I wrote, "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." Since, then, a number of library vendors have been working hard at this quest to develop discovery products that allow library users to search diverse and formerly separate silos of content from a single search box. The key is using a centralized consolidated index to provide faster and better search results than one can achieve using federated search technologies. Several discovery products have now become commercially available. EBSCO Publishing is the latest, releasing its EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS). But the company says it was worth taking the extra time to develop the product.
EDS (www.ebscohost.com/discovery) harvests metadata from both internal (library) and external (database vendors) sources and creates a preindexed service of impressive size and speed. Although the resulting collection is massive in size and scope, Sam Brooks, senior vice president of sales and marketing, says the fact that it is indexed directly on the EBSCOhost servers allows for exceptionally fast search response times and for the ability to leverage the familiar powerful features of the EBSCOhost user experience across all resources.
Content in EDS can include the following:
- Detailed metadata (e.g., author-supplied abstracts, keywords, subjects, etc.) from content providers and publishers
- Complete indexing from EBSCOhost databases to which an institution subscribes (e.g., Academic Search, Business Source, CINAHL, Historical Abstracts, etc.)
- Complete indexing from non-EBSCOhost databases (to which a customer subscribes), including resources from Alexander Street Press, LexisNexis, NewsBank, Readex, etc.
- Complete OPAC loaded directly into EDS (and searched along with all other EDS content); includes real-time availability checks and daily updates
- Book jacket images, book records, entertainment records, annotations, family keys, subject headings, demand information, awards, review citations, etc., for hundreds of thousands of publications
- Institutional archives/repositories directly loaded into EDS and searched as part of the overall experience
EBSCO claims that EDS has far more third-party content partners taking part than any other discovery service, and it offers the deepest indexing of discoverable materials. According to Brooks, "Our volume of full-text scholarly journals is probably three to one over other services." He stresses that the company has spent years working to license full-text content from publishers.
With EDS, EBSCO is going head to head with the Summon service from Serials Solutions, which has content agreements with ProQuest, Gale, LexisNexis, and others. (Other discovery service providers include OCLC [WorldCat Local,] ExLibris [Primo,] and AquaBrowser Library, provided by Serials Solutions.) Summon launched in beta last January (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/Single-Interface-Library-Service-From-Serials-Solutions-The-Summon-52370.asp), and in September, the first two adopters of the commercial version went live. John Law, vice president, discovery services, Serials Solutions, provided the following written statement about the EBSCO launch of EDS.
The R&D that led to the Summon service proved that today's researchers want more than search, ... they want the productivity rush delivered by web-scale yet precise discovery. More than 6,000 publishers and other content providers agree, and are participating in Summon-more are joining every week. The amount of authoritative, industry-embracing content already indexed through the Summon multi-thread ingest process has reached a half-billion records, including nearly 100,000 journals at the article level. We're glad to see EBSCO joining this effort with their discovery offering for EBSCO content.
I asked Brooks for specific numbers of third-party content providers and total number of journals in EDS, but he provided a written statement as well-without numbers.
The figures used by Summon are not an apples to apples comparison with EDS. Table of Contents (TOC) information is not comparable with the full metadata provided within EBSCO Discovery Service. ... In terms of judging the content, for example, if a discovery service includes thin metadata from a database that has journals from a hundred publishers, does that count as a hundred content partners or as one content partner that is providing Table of Contents data? When we talk about EBSCO Discovery Service having the most comprehensive content, we are referring to the most indexing from controlled vocabularies and full-text searching.
EBSCO Discovery Service does not take a cookie cutter approach; EDS is customized to the collection of every customer. As a result, every potential EBSCO Discovery Service customer receives a customized content analysis that shows them exactly what they would get, and that analysis is where we can truly illustrate the superior content that EDS provides.
Brooks also stressed the level of interface customizability of EDS. The library can determine customization to the interface for prominent logo placement, interface colors, naming of the service itself, toolbar customization, etc., allowing a site's discovery service to dovetail with other institutional marketing and branding efforts. EDS also lets libraries set up widgets (e.g., Library Guides) directly on the results page and export bits of functionality from the EBSCO experience to other sections of a university's website.
Interestingly, the EBSCO press release about the new EDS doesn't mention the complement to EDS that optionally extends the discovery experience to external resources that are not made available for local harvesting. EBSCO's federated search service, called EBSCOhost Integrated Search (EHIS), enables searching of these external resources with a rapid return of results but with no delays apparent to the user. (Brooks says the company didn't want to risk inducing negative thoughts about old federation technologies.) EDS combined with EHIS uses tiers of connectors so that the fastest results display first while other sources are searched behind the scenes. In the screen shot shown here, the results from resources searched through EHIS are shown in a box in the right-hand column. Users can choose to view results by checking the appropriate source.
EBSCO has been working on the development and testing of EDS with 30 beta customers since early October. Libraries include large ARLs, mid-sized colleges, one state library, and some international participants. The company says an additional 145 library sites have already committed to a trial of the service. The next test phase includes a large public library and some government and corporate libraries.
Bill Clayton, assistant university librarian for systems, University of Georgia, says the library staff has been testing the service since October and will continue for a few more months. While he says they have looked at a number of other vendor's discovery products, including Summon, the library has more EBSCO databases than from any other aggregator. "It's a content-based decision, in terms of our licenses and subscriptions. This looks to be an advantage for us. But," he cautioned, "it's still early days [for a decision]."
He says they are talking with EBSCO about some interface issues-they would like to see a simpler interface and some changes in how users see results sets. "All of these [discovery] tools help address what we see as a significant problem for a lot of our users-understanding where they need to go to search for information, with hundreds of [content] silos to pick from." But bringing all this content together now means the user has a fire hose to drink from-"It creates a whole new set of problems."
Diane Dallis, associate dean, academic services, Indiana University-Bloomington libraries, says the libraries have not yet had a formal evaluation of discovery services, but they had been asked by EBSCO to become a beta test partner. "The state of Indiana has a contract with EBSCO for INSPIRE Indiana's Virtual Library and the IU Libraries subscribe to additional EBSCO products. We chose to take advantage of the opportunity to be involved in the development and testing of the EBSCO EDS with the hope that we could help create something that [would] improve our users' discovery experience." She also notes: "The ability to brand the interface and add local services and resources makes EDS very desirable."
Scott R. Anderson, information systems librarian at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, says his library has been testing EDS and had already been using EHIS to bundle together various subject-oriented search functionalities. He says, "EBSCO is our primary database provider, so the ability to extend on the EBSCOhost platform really leverages the existing experience of users and faculty, builds on back-office processes already in place, while the discovery/integration functionality allows nearly all our other content to be brought into a single research environment through the discovery or the integration service. At this point, we're lacking connectivity with just one small content provider, and I have a connecter build request in the queue for that content."
He also notes that the customization was a big draw. He comments:
But what is even more attractive than customization is the approach that EBSCO is taking to build a custom index based on what we want included in the index, or federating out parts via the integration service, along with widgets and add-ins so we can customize not only the look and feel, but also what services and content appear in various places within the EBSCOhost platform. We can also provide links, custom search boxes, feeds from other locations (webpages, course shells, learning content management systems) back into the platform from other locations. I'm also excited about the possibility of using mobile profiles with the Discovery functionality, which further reduces the number of platforms that users will have navigate while leveraging the existing experience and all of our content into another modality. It also reduces the number of platforms that I need to be actively managing for mobility or ADA compliance issues. Couple that with follow-on enhancements that are already underway and the ability to tailor both the content and the functionality to local need I think is very compelling.
These three beta testers will be leading a panel discussion about EDS during the ALA Midwinter meeting in Boston.