Magazine article Information Today

The Undiscovered Discovery

Magazine article Information Today

The Undiscovered Discovery

Article excerpt

If you're a journalist covering the information industry (and a consumer advocate for the interests of those buying that industry's products and services), you have a sense of responsibility that inevitably leads to a permanent furrow in your brow etched by worry over adequacy. Have I done all the tire kicking I need to do, and have I competently interviewed those who have done the tire kicking? Did the people I interviewed know what they were talking about or what I was asking in the interview? Angst, angst, angst.

The issues get even more difficult when dealing with enterprise-only products. Anyone can saunter onto an open website and conduct whatever tests or experiments they want. Any journalist in the field can get a freebie password to a commercial service that is sold to individuals (aka credit-card customers). But how do you test a service that operates only on campus or companywide? And when it comes to comparing and evaluating competitive enterprise services from different vendors, the problems increase. The greatest is the difficulty of finding anyone in the field who has already done the evaluation within the enterprise. The prices for enterprise services are so high, and the overlap in functionality often so broad, that it becomes unlikely that anyone will buy more than one service. And if you don't use them, how can you compare them?

Focusing on Discovery Services

This brings us to the flavor-of-the-month product these days: discovery services. The top three discovery services are Summon from ProQuest/Serials Solutions, EBSCO Discovery Service, and Ex Libris' Primo. These three services attempt to homogenize all the databases licensed by libraries into a multifeatured, well-integrated finding tool with an interface that end users/patrons will find easy and familiar. (How many O's are there in Google?) Of course, the discovery services in a perfect world reach beyond licensed library collections to find--and fetch--all the content that librarians and their patrons find of value, regardless of any specific limitations tied to individual library holdings. After all, they must have a central merged collection that reaches a broader array of sources than those for any single library's licenses.

Many sources that discovery services reach come through arrangements with publishers or full-text database aggregators, but I don't know what limitations these sources may impose on restricting access to existing clients. However, in a conversation with an executive of a venerable A&I service, I heard a tale of woe for the grand goal of universal access. My interviewee told me that when ProQuest Summon was first rolled out, the service wanted all the references available from ProQuest. But the company and other A&I services wouldn't buy into that, according to my source. It figured that if it gave away its citations, there would be nothing to sell. So when Summon returned to the negotiating table, company spokespeople agreed to filter the service to the content for which library clients had subscriptions. My source also had remarks about how often the discovery services (and they were available through several) dropped in to harvest data (monthly, in one case) and how they ignored some data elements unique to specific collections. …

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