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EBSCO Opens Masses of Content to Third-Party Discovery Services
Posted On May 6, 2014
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As to the subject index databases excluded, EBSCO says: “As approaches for discovery service development around A&I resources are more thoroughly documented (with the help of EBSCO and possibly other subject index providers) and subsequently addressed, EBSCO will re-visit its policy for sharing these unique databases with other discovery service vendors.”

Other problems might emerge as negotiations with vendors and libraries to reach this EBSCO content begin. One academic librarian with whom I spoke considered that the change in EBSCO policies probably stemmed from library customer pressure. She also worried that the discovery systems were less neutral than they claimed. “They don’t push as much anymore to what’s good as to what we have. We libraries are more open to presenting content even if we don’t have it and use interlibrary loan to get it.” She was also concerned with any requirements for patrons to log in before they could use the discovery services. “We know from studies that people don’t like to login until they’re ready to go after a document.”

Discovery service vendors were quick to respond to the announcement. Ex Libris with its Primo Central discovery service has had an on-again, off-again relationship with EBSCO in the past. Oren Beit-Arie, Ex Libris’ chief strategy officer, stated that “if it’s good for libraries, it’s good for all. In principle, this is good news, though we have lots of concern. It is the first public recognition by EBSCO of what libraries expect. That is the good, positive side.” However, Beit-Arie was concerned about curtailed scope of coverage, the implication that other discovery services were not adequate to handle all the EBSCO data, a possible reluctance to share all data or content while requiring others to provide full services and functionalities, and a question of lasting commitment. He indicated that Ex Libris would be discussing the offer with libraries to get their read on it, with particular regard to “getting only a subset of their paid-for content” covered. Ex Libris does plan to “engage with EBSCO in hope to reach a more balanced agreement.”

In a somewhat different position from Ex Libris, OCLC has a “content neutral” service in WorldCat Discovery. They do not compete with EBSCO or other library vendors in providing aggregated content and have a longstanding collaboration with EBSCO. Chip Nilges, VP of business development for OCLC, stated that they already have 120 million records from EBSCO in 32 full-text databases. He said they plan to expand standing arrangements and to continue to encourage EBSCO to expand its offerings. He also commented this was “a huge step for EBSCO and a huge improvement over what we currently have, very exciting.”

Probably the largest competitor to EBSCO both in content provision and discovery service is ProQuest’s Summon. Michael Hirsch, VP of product management and workflow solutions at ProQuest, responded to questions. ProQuest already has arrangements in place with OCLC and Ex Libris; however, it’s early days yet for EBSCO. Hirsch comments, “EBSCO’s policy announcement appears to be a good first step toward following what others have already achieved but we will have to see how their policy is implemented before drawing any conclusions. We look forward to working with them and the library community to see how their new policy develops.” Hirsch pointed out possible overlap with Summon’s 1.9 billion documents and EBSCO’s content. However, if Summon interaction with EBSCO can follow its interaction with Primo Central, significant improvements could be on the way.

Final Thoughts

Scott Bernier, senior VP of marketing at EBSCO, wanted one thing to be clear above all—namely, that this is a ton of data and that EBSCO’s policy in releasing it to the library world should be a “win-win situation for all.” As to the timing, EBSCO responds:

Our policy is open now. We are encouraging partnerships, and from there, it is just a matter of establishing the lines of data transfer and technology collaboration with the specific partner. One of the three potential partners has had an extremely positive response, and we expect that one could move very quickly. Since we announced the policy, we continue to receive questions about “when will this happen?”. It’s obvious that many in the library community think these partnerships should happen quickly—and we agree—but we aren’t trying to rush anyone.

Carl Grant, associate dean for knowledge services and the CTO at the University of Oklahoma Libraries, with an admitted tight relationship to Ex Libris, took a cautious view:

The bottom line is that as librarians, we must continue to use our purchasing power, combined when necessary, to collectively and where appropriate, exert pressure on content suppliers to provide what we need to make for meaningful experiences with our discovery tools. … [T]his looks like progress, but it is not all that we need. So we must continue our efforts, until such time as we can search all content we license, under the discovery system of our choice.

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Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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