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Discovering Discoverability at ALA Midwinter

Last Sunday at ALA, I attended a presentation by Mary Somerville, University Librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, focusing on discoverability. Somerville recently co-authored a white paper on Collaborative Improvements in the Discoverability of Scholarly Content with Lettie Conrad of SAGE. I was glad to be able to participate as one of the interviewees in the Somerville-Conrad paper, which highlights some of the remarkable progress that has been made in discovery for scholarly purposes in recent years and makes recommendations in the areas of standards, transparency, metadata, and partnerships. It is a concise but extensively footnoted paper that is well worth a read by anyone interested in these issues.

Following Somerville’s presentation, the discussion took several interesting turns. I was surprised to learn that web discovery services such as Google did not unduly feature in the interviews that Somerville and Conrad conducted. On another matter, discoverability of non-text materials and especially video requires indexing that goes well beyond the title level. Overall, the work clearly suggests the importance and vitality of specialized scholarly metadata, indexing, and search services.

I was especially taken by Somerville’s discussion of various types of participatory design, particularly those that bring libraries together with vendors interested in providing for discovery. She explained that these types of co-design processes for new services can introduce new resources and yield outcomes that are valuable not only for vendors but also for libraries trying to develop their own services. While cast in the context of discovery, in Somerville’s description there is real opportunity for libraries to work together with publishers and vendors to study user needs institutionally while finding ways to provide for them that scales beyond the individual library.

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