Discovery: What Do You Mean by That?

Article excerpt

Mwuah ha ha ha haaa! Finally it's my turn. I hold the power of the editorial. (Can you tell I'm writing this around Halloween?) Seriously now, I've been intimately and extensively involved with Information Technology and Libraries for eleven years, yet this is the first time I've escaped from behind the editing scenes to address the readership directly. As managing editor for seven of the eleven volumes (18-22 and 27-28) and an editorial board member reviewing manuscripts (vols. 23-26), I am honored Marc agreed to let me be guest editor for this theme issue.

This issue is a compilation of presentations from the Discovery Mini-Conference held at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Libraries in the spring of 2009. The first article by Jennifer Fabbi gives the full chronology and framework of the project, but I have the pleasure of introducing this issue and topic by virtue of my role as guest editor, as well as my own participation in the Mini-Conference before I left UNLV in July 2009.

* What is discovery?.

When the dean of libraries, Patricia Iannuzzi, announced that UNLV would have a Libraries-wide, poster-session style Discovery Mini-Conference, Jennifer Fabbi and I decided we wanted to be part of it. We had already been exploring various aspects of discovery as part of an organizational focus as well as following up on a particular event that happened earlier in the year. While serving on a search committee, we posed a question to all the candidates: "What do you see the library catalog looking like in the future? What do you see as the relationship between the library catalog and other access or discovery tools?" One of the candidates had such a unique answer that it got us thinking: Are we all talking about the same thing when we discuss discovery?

The Mini-Conference gave us the opportunity to explore the idea further. An all-library summit that preceded the Mini-Conference announcement had focused on users finding known items. We knew that discovery was so much more and that it depended on the users' needs.

Of course, first we went to multiple online dictionaries to look up the meanings of "discovery" and found the following definitions:

* Something learned or found; something new that has been learned or found

* The process of learning something; the fact or process of finding out about something for the first time

* The process of finding something; the process or act of finding something or somebody unexpectedly or after searching

We also looked at famous quotes about discovery. There were some of our favorites:

A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind.

--Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.

--Will Durant

Next, a colleague recommended we look at Chang's browsing theory. (1) This theory covered the broad spectrum of how users seek information and showed a more serendipitous view than the former focus of known item search. Obviously, browsing implies a physical interaction with a collection, so we reframed the themes to fit discovery in the "every-library" electronic information environment.

Chang's five browsing themes, adapted to discovery:

* Looking for a specific item, to locate

* Looking for something with common characteristics, to find "more like this"

* Keeping up-to-date, to find out what's new in a field, topic or intellectual area

* Learning or finding out, to define or form a research question

* Goal-free, to satisfy curiosity or be entertained. (2)

All interesting information, but a little theoretical for a visual presentation. To make these themes more concrete and visual, I suggested we apply them to personas as described in one of my favorite books, The Inmates are Running the Asylum. (3) This encourages programmers to create a user with a full backstory and then design a product for their needs. …