Libraries are for Use

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Two on Discovery Systems


In my news feeds, I found two items specifically examining the impact of Discovery systems in academic libraries.  The first one I saw was a pre-print from College & Research Libraries that presents results of surveys completed at Ryerson University in Canada.  The second was a summary report from the UKSG/JISC on the “Impact of library discovery technologies“.

The article from Ryerson reports on two surveys completed by students and faculty regarding their experiences with Summon.  Not unexpectedly, the people who were most satisfied with Summon were undergraduates in the sciences and most social sciences.  What was more interesting in this article was that nearly half used Summon alone in their most recent searches (see figure 3) and nearly 55% of these people were very or extremely satisfied with Summon.  The vast majority of those who used an additional resource used Google, but an even greater percentage of these people were very or extremely satisfied with Summon (67%)!  Not surprisingly, of those who used other database resources, fewer were satisfied with Summon.  Of course, we know that this is comparing apples with oranges.  After all, no librarian would think that any Web-scale discovery system could compete with specialized databases in the specificity of results.  But, for many people, specificity is not the most important criteria of satisfaction.

The report from across the pond was a little different, in that the primary purpose was to “provide an evaluation of the impact of library discovery technologies on the usage of academic content.”  The researchers used a multitude of sources, including a review of literature, a survey of libraries, and a case study of libraries and content providers.  The “key findings” were that “Resource Discovery Systems” (RDS) were becoming quite the norm in libraries, with 93% of surveyed libraries reporting current or planned implementation.  These libraries reported increased usage of resources, notably e-books and, to a lesser extent, ejournals, as well as high satisfaction ratings from their users (see above article).  Key areas of concern were:

  • Inconsistent usage data, from both the RDS and from the content providers.
  • Libraries were suspicious that results were biased towards the RDS vendor’s own sources.
  • Difficulty in seeing “how well their resources match the RDS index, although they believe the match to be 50% or more.”
  • Publishers were not able to see the impact of RDS mediation on the usage of their content.

The report included recommendations for all three stakeholders in the RDS model: RDS vendor, the publisher, and the library.  Not surprisingly, recommendations for the RDS vendors include transparency on how their systems work, what is indexed, and how metadata is used.  For libraries, the report recommends working more closely with the vendors, and (notably) “making sure libraries have adequate exit strategies”.  And for publishers, the report suggests that they collaborate more with the RDS vendors to get more information on usage and how their content works within these systems.

The report also has recommendations for other stakeholders, notably UKSG, Jisc, COUNTER and NISO, to develop a standard for RDS usage, as well as other standards on content coverage.  I need to examine the changes in COUNTER v.4 to see how this could impact database usage reports.

I must admit, both the now-old-fashioned “federated search systems” of yore and the new-fangled “Discovery Systems” of today have thrown a monkey wrench into the works of database usage, which had only recently been stabilized with the implementation of COUNTER.  Just when we librarians were getting a handle on the database searches, sessions and downloads, these data become worthless again because they do not validly account for these mediated searches.  The federated search systems effectively over-counted sessions & searches by counting every search made from its interface on every database.  Technically this is true, but that makes the entire stats totally worthless.  Conversely, we have no idea on if or how the content from our databases is being used via the Summon. We have seen the number of searches & sessions recorded in our databases dropping precipitously since Summon, but that doesn’t mean that the content of these databases is not being used.

Of course, the recommendations are all-too familiar to all parties – essentially, libraries need to work together with vendors, publishers and each other; vendors need to be more open about their systems; publishers need to pay more attention to their metadata.  It just seems like this is all the same song, second verse, same as the first.

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This entry was posted on February 2, 2014 by in Academic Libraries, Information Resources, LIS Research.

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