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Resource Discovery

Learning Objectives

• Define “resource discovery”, “discovery services”, and “discovery layers”.
• Identify ways digital resources have impacted library services.

discoveryResource discovery involves locating information in complex networks. Research in “resource discovery” seeks to find technical solutions to accessing large qualities of information more easily.

For libraries, discovery systems are needed that help users access results from the range of site-based and remote resources available including electronic databases, digital download subscriptions, and other resources.

Discovery Services

Discovery services can be viewed as the next generation of library catalogs.

In some cases, metadata is mined from each item to create an index that spans all of the library’s content. Unfortunately, these types of large-scale projects require that the various content providers cooperate by providing consistent, reliable data.

Discovery Layer

A discovery layer is a user interface that provides a single point of access to a library’s collection. It provides a “front-end” for harvested metadata coming from catalog records, index records, abstract records, and other local and remote databases.

This interface provides a unified view across all of the resources harvested.

A search box is used to enter a search statement and structured results are provided much like a web search engine.

The system may also provide recommendations, autocomplete search tools, and links to full-text resources.

Discovery in Libraries

Discovery layers don’t generally replace existing catalogs or databases. Instead, they work alongside or on top of the many existing systems providing an additional “layer”.

Many libraries have discovery features woven into their search results. The Indianapolis Public Library is an example. Notice the Discover options on the left side of the screen.

discovery layer

Try It!
Go to the Indianapolis Public Library and try out their Discover option.

Web Scale Discovery

Web Scale Discovery (WSD) services are one type of discovery layer solution.

Many vendors are involved in developing Web Scale Discovery (WSD) services that provide this type of global access to all the library’s resources. As part of the service, they provide ready-made databases of metadata as well as harvesting local metadata from catalogs and other collections. However, many of these same companies are in competition with content providers making a unbiased approach difficult.

Vendors including EBSCO, OCLC, ProQuest, and Ex Libris are all involved in providing web scale discovery services.

Open source software can be adapted to serve many of the functions of a Web Scale Discovery service.

Pros and Cons of Discovery

informaitonMost resource discovery systems involving searching a single index to access the library’s OPAC, subscription databases, institutional repositories, digital collections, and other digital resources.

Many uses skip the library entirely and go straight to Google, just search the OPAC, or go to databases and miss other great resources.

An effective discovery system can ensure that users are able to access the best of all these resources. However, even the best systems don’t cover every resource available.

In addition, users lose some of the special features found in specialized databases. Finally, the results can be overwhelming to users.

Positive Impact of Remote Access

The ability to provide remote access has had a tremendous impact on library services. Some areas include:

The OPAC allows both physical and virtual library visitors a means to quickly conduct a search and determine what resources are available. In many cases, users can also determine whether items are available, reserve and renew items, and conduct many other activities that in the past required a visit to the library and interaction with library personnel.

Remote access to databases and other online materials has reduced the need for physical library storage and increased access by those unable or unwilling to visit the library in person.

Virtual reference services allow librarians to interact with library users who do not wish to visit the library in person.

Advances in metadata tagging and search algorithms have made searching for information more effective, efficient, and appealing.

In many cases, technology is making materials more accessible for those with cognitive and physical challenges.

Negative Impact of Remote Access

Unfortunately, the increase in online services has had a negative impact in some areas.

Those without access to technology may be limited in their ability to access and use some library services such as databases and digital downloads.

Libraries must invest in computer labs and in some cases circulating technology in order to accommodate those without access.

Some library users have concerns about digital privacy and the information collected about their use of the library. Others are concerned about whether their information is secure.

Although digital materials may take up less space than traditional resources, physical space continues to be a concern. Flexible spaces are needed where users can make use of their own technology or use computer labs.

Fewer books and physical media are being purchased to make room in the budget for e-books, audiobooks, and other digital download services.


Resource discovery involves locating information in complex networks. Libraries need to help users access resources across local and remote collections.

A discovery layer provides a single point of access to the library’s collection.

Remote access to library resources has had a tremendous impact on library resources.

| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Contact Us | 2014 Annette Lamb (Adapted from earlier s401 materials)

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