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Does Discovery Still Happen in the Library?
Roles and Strategies for a Shifting Reality

In the age of the ubiquitous single search box, what role do libraries play in the discovery of scholarly resources?

In this Issue Brief, Roger Schonfeld explores how the vision that the library should be the starting point for research—a vision many library directors hold—is often in conflict with the practices of faculty and students.  As users migrate to other starting points, librarians could invest in ways to bring them back. But there is also an opportunity for librarians to re-think their role and perhaps pursue a different vision altogether.

Discovery Issue Brief Cover

Interested? Download “Does Discovery Still Happen in the Library? Roles and Strategies for a Shifting Reality.”

Comments on: Does Discovery Still Happen in the Library?

  1. It’s a good question and one we all need to consider as our users continue to change the way they find information. I work with college students and I know they do not approach research like I do.

  2. I do not know the origin but the comment ” Six months on the range is worth at least afternoon in the library” is particularly apposite

  3. discovery may happen outside the library but delivery takes place in or via it. Open access will have a complex impact on this in he medium term

  4. I wonder whether the survey question to which “The vast majority of the academic library directors who responded … continued to agree strongly with ..[of] : “It is strategically important that my library be seen by its users as the first place they go to discover scholarly content” was a leading question. Was the question also posed, as an alternative, that “It is strategically important that my library be seen by its users as a key place they go to discover scholarly content”? While this doesn’t change the ultimate question of whether academic libraries should invest at all in discovery services, it does acknowledge a more nuanced environment where the value isn’t all or nothing, which has never been tenable nor appropriate.

  5. I agree with mike mcgrath, although I’d use term other than “discovery” for what happens outside of the library: something along the lines of “initial awareness” and “preliminary research”. It’s when the user comes across something that he/she would like to know more about. But I agree that Schonfeld’s definition of “discovery” (“the process and infrastructure required for a user to find an appropriate item”) is something that “takes place in or via [the library].” I’ve also seen a lot of emphasis on something Schonfeld points out: “[R]esearchers stay up to date in their field by maintaining current awareness of new findings, theories, methodologies, and so forth.” I think that this is much more of an issue in the sciences than in the humanities. All users do not require brand new, cutting edge information. There’s a huge body of past literature, criticism, interpretation, variant texts, bibliographies, and so on to be explored. Another issue–which may be an unanswerable question–is how to qualify what constitutes an “appropriate item” for a user. The user certainly retains the right to determine for him/herself what is appropriate. If the user happens to be a student, though, they may find that their teacher/professor disagrees. Librarians have a responsibility to not only provide users with what they want, but also with what they *need*. Interaction between the user and librarian doesn’t need to take place *in* the library but, again, as mike mcgrath wrote, “via it.”

  6. I wonder if “discovery” is the appropriate term. At APUS, a fully online university, the library is proactively building electronic Course Guides of library and open web materials to cover the curriculum. These act as pick lists to help faculty select appropriate course materials, but also as controlled launching pads for student research. While far from perfect, this new genre has witnessed a 3,000% rise in data base use within less than a decade. Indeed, APUS is now by far JSTOR’s top user and could be worth a look.

  7. Given the growth in use observed in the databases our discovery system (EDS) mines, the investment has been well worth it! A single point of entry to ~100 databases was desperately needed from a UX perspective. We sacrificed some accuracy for the sake of the users’ convenience, a hat trick Google found profitable long ago. Even though exploration starts outside of the library (a fact we have known for a long time), access still happens in the library (as McGrath points out above). But the clause “still” is critical: there are no technical impediments for publishers to allow Google to index their databases. That to date only a few publishers have opted do so, e.g., JSTOR, Elsevier and Sage, warrants further exploration IMHO. As a result most users discover content in Google only to be forced to navigate back to the library. The discovery system serves the purpose of lowering friction in what remains a needlessly complicated and irritating process to many patrons. Whether libraries invest in in-house development, by implementing Blacklight, for example, or settle for what we get out-of-the-box remains a valid question. The day after Google starts indexing our databases this question becomes moot. Once access and discovery happen on the same platform, e.g. Google Scholar, patrons will have no reason to go back to the library for access. At that point there will be no point for a discovery system at the local level. And we will have taken one more step towards disintermediation

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