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. Libraries provide a vast richness of content, but that content has historically resided in separate silos of storage and access-books in the catalog, subscription content from multiple providers, ebooks, archival collections, electronic journals, and other resources on the web. Library vendors have approached the problem with federated search products that search remotely and rely on connectors, but these are generally seen to be only partial and limited solutions. However, new discovery tools have begun to appear that promise to provide a single interface to multiple resources based on using a centralized consolidated index to provide faster and better search results. Serials Solutions (www.serialssolutions.com) announced its Summon service in January (see NewsBreak) and garnered much interest; it is currently in beta testing in a small number of libraries with general availability expected in July. The recent announcements from OCLC and EBSCO have just moved the discovery tool competition to a new level. Now it's not just about which library vendor has the latest technology but which provides access to the most content.
OCLC (www.oclc.org) announced that it signed an agreement with EBSCO Publishing (www.ebscohost.com) that makes it possible for libraries that subscribe to both the WorldCat Local and EBSCOhost services to provide their users with online access to the full text of a wide range of authoritative electronic content through the web. As part of the WorldCat.org Partner Program, EBSCO's content will be 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. The agreement is for indexing the metadata in databases that EBSCO publishes; OCLC is working on separate agreements with other database producers and has already signed 30 or so. EBSCO in turn will provide its EBSCOhost users with seamless access to WorldCat content.
WorldCat View of the Econtent World
OCLC plans to introduce its new WorldCat.org platform and user interface in July, and the EBSCO databases will be indexed and included in stages in WorldCat Local over a period of some months. The new WorldCat.org discovery platform is designed to provide user-friendly, single-search-box access to OCLC econtent resources, including ArchiveGrid archival collection descriptions, NetLibrary eBooks and eAudiobooks, Electronic Collections Online eJournals, OCLC FirstSearch databases, and CAMIO-the Catalog of Art Museum Images.1
OCLC introduced WorldCat Local in April 2007 (see our NewsBreak). At that time, it said it was building a partners program so OCLC could go to vendors and facilitate having their content added to holdings. And, over the past year or so, OCLC has been pushing to add article-level metadata to WorldCat; it now includes some 60-plus million article citations.
According to OCLC, the impetus for doing this came from some of the WorldCat Local pilot sites, including the University of Washington and others. "OCLC had added article metadata to WorldCat.org and when the first WorldCat Local sites were in pilot they liked the links to FirstSearch databases so well that we asked them about linking to remote databases. They of course liked this idea, and so we developed the program and began talking to database producers."
Library technology expert Marshall Breeding of Vanderbilt University Libraries says, "I think that it represents an important development for OCLC. It addresses the key issue of providing access to both print and electronic content through a single discovery tool. There are many similarities and differences with Summon and the other discovery products."
Breeding notes that publishers seem to be more willing to provide their content for these emerging discovery services. Those who don't opt to partner could be left out of the party. He also welcomes what he calls "consolidated search tools" based on a centralized consolidated index. The federated search approach was a stop-gap measure; the new tools should provide more relevant search results and a better user experience.
EBSCO is supplying a number of databases to OCLC, and, according to Michael Gorrell, chief information officer at EBSCO Publishing, "[T]he list will be fluid. Right now it includes our largest and most popular full-text products (Academic Search, Business Source, Masterfile, etc.)."
Chip Nilges, OCLC vice president of business development, says, "We're very pleased to add EBSCO to the growing list of content providers who are partnering with OCLC to make their content more accessible to libraries and their patrons through WorldCat Local." The list of partners includes R.R. Bowker; H.W. Wilson; American Economic Association; American Psychological Association; American Theological Library Association; Modern Language Association; the National Library of Medicine; Harvard University; J. Paul Getty Trust; and a variety of other academic and learned societies. Nilges stressed that it wants the broadest coverage possible and hopes to partner with other key content providers.
Librarian bloggers are already asking if we're looking at big competition between OCLC-EBSCO and Serials Solutions-ProQuest coming down the road. A library trying to choose a discovery tool at this point would have to decide--Summon with ProQuest and Gale content (full-text indexed), or WorldCat Local with EBSCO content (with citations and metadata indexed). And then there are other options, such as Innovative Interfaces' Encore, Primo from Ex Libris, and some homegrown open source tools-as well as the forthcoming EBSCO Discovery Service (see below). Of course, all discovery tool services are hoping to entice content providers to jump onboard their train.
And, remember that these tools are still in very early development stage and the competitive landscape is continuously changing. Many libraries are still testing and evaluating WorldCat Local-in fact, an OCLC representative said he couldn't give me actual numbers at this point. "WorldCat Local is in production on some sites, it is in implementation phase on some sites, and it is in pilot on other sites. This is why it is difficult to pin down a number of active WorldCat Local institutions."
A March 27, 2009, task force report on WorldCat Local at the Oregon State University Libraries recommended further evaluation and testing before acquiring a discovery service (http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/dspace/bitstream/1957/11167/1/Worldcat%20local%20task%20force%20report_cost%20redacted.pdf). The report states, "In June 2008, OSU Libraries determined that it would purchase and implement WorldCat Local in FY09. However, having had the opportunity to examine WCL, its development and its relationship with existing library services more closely since that time, we do not recommend taking this action in FY09. We agree that WCL has tremendous potential but believe that delaying a decision to purchase and implement WCL until FY10 would serve two purposes. First, OCLC would have time to develop WCL's capacity based on the feedback and experience of early adopters. Secondly, OSU Libraries would be positioned to make a more intentional decision about what our discovery product of choice ought to be."
I spoke with one of the authors of the report, Michael Boock, head of digital access services, who says they are very interested in the OCLC-EBSCO announcement and the forthcoming developments. He confirmed that the OSU Libraries would continue to investigate and evaluate WCL and other products and make a decision later this year. He says that a solution that provides both consolidated index search and federated search capabilities would be optimal.
EBSCO's Path to Discovery
EBSCO's Gorrell says, "We are pleased to be working with OCLC to enable both organizations to enhance their user experience for their customers." EBSCO will take a bit longer to include WorldCat content, as it prepares to introduce first its previously announced EBSCOhost Integrated Search, a federated search service planned for launch in June, and a soon-to-be-announced Discovery Service, expected by the end of the calendar year.
EBSCO was previewing its Integrated Search at ALA Midwinter in January, but the buzz about Summon certainly must have been obvious. Then, after talking to OCLC about sharing metadata and hearing from customers, Gorrell says the company decided to extend the EBSCOhost platform to provide its own discovery service with pre-indexed content.
According to Gorrell, "WorldCat data will be made available through EBSCOhost Integrated Search, but it will be accessed (searched) remotely. Once we release the new discovery service, WorldCat data can be searched locally alongside a site's EBSCOhost databases and other journal/ebook/periodical data that we are aggregating for the discovery index." By the way, in case you're wondering about access to WorldCat data, the agreement is to provide this service to mutual customers-EBSCO is "working with OCLC on a protocol we'll use to know when a user is from an authorized institution."
These new EBSCO services will be tightly integrated, according to Gorrell, and the work that librarians invest to configure and customize one service (EBSCOhost) can be leveraged across the other services. He adds, "Since we offer the biggest full-text collections, and the EBSCOhost platform is the most widely used research platform, we're confident that librarians will see the value of this tight integration."
Powered by the EBSCOhost platform, Gorrell says the new Discovery Service will be the most comprehensive online research service in the industry. Here are the details he provided at this time. The official announcement of the service and of its participating partners is expected within a week or so.
- A single, simple entry point customized for each library
- A discovery layer service that enables users to search a wide-ranging collection of metadata and link quickly to the content to which they have rights
- "Local" access to more than 35,000 journals and magazines and, from WorldCat, 130 million books, videos, and music CDs
- Up to 330 databases available via EBSCOhost (loaded locally), including Academic Search, Business Source, ATLA Religion Database, CINAHL, ERIC, Historical Abstracts, MLA International Bibliography, PsycINFO, and many more
- Metadata and seamless linking to ejournals from more than 400 publishers
- Other partners (to be announced)
- The ability to also search, if desired by the library, the content of databases on remote services through EBSCOhost Integrated Search, the federated search service based on the EBSCOhost platform (no training on a new interface required)
Stay Tuned ...
So, to reiterate, discovery tools are in their infancy in development--and the competitive landscape is in constant change. This will be an interesting year, as one new platform after another emerges, each trying to position itself as the one-stop-shop of choice for content discovery. Clearly, librarians will be busy testing and comparing--and hopefully collaborating and sharing information and findings--to see which best meets their specific situational requirements.
1. These OCLC electronic resources will remain available via their existing interfaces for the foreseeable future following their availability on WorldCat.org to ensure a smooth transition for library staff and users. OCLC will provide a schedule for when these interfaces will be discontinued at a later date.
Update April 21, 2009: EBSCO officially announced its forthcoming Discovery Service and the participating partners. According to the press release, locally indexed content will also include the news and information resources from NewsBank and the digital collections from its Readex division. Alexander Street Press is also participating, allowing access to its historical archive, music, and video collections. New partnerships for additional locally indexed content will be announced in the near future.