As Discovery Takes Center Stage in Academic Libraries, Full Text Remains the Final Destination for End Users
~Backfile Coverage Showing Increased Usage as Relevance Determines Usefulness~
“[T]he new “next” is a combination of … a single and fast search, but in the context of an experience that pulls together features, functionality, high-end indexing and instant access to full text that we have come to expect from refined research platforms and databases. And while we pull these elements together and continue to refine the approach, the goal is still about end user gratification: finding and accessing the content that best meets their needs.”
As we move forward with the new generation of research, the next generation is already in the making. With Discovery, the original cry was for a faster approach to searching a library’s collection in one place. And as we progress, we know that’s not enough. Universities are seeing that we can’t possibly abandon the ideal notions of an academic research environment that we have spent years together refining just because we are able to search more content at once. So, the new “next” is a combination of these things—a single and fast search, but in the context of an experience that pulls together features, functionality, high-end indexing and instant access to full text that we have come to expect from refined research platforms and databases.
And while we pull these elements together and continue to refine the approach, the goal is still about end user gratification: finding and accessing the content that best meets their needs. Just a few short years ago, the overwhelming majority of libraries would default their search experience to retrieve results ranked by date. As we now see the flaws in this approach for most practical applications, and relevancy algorithms continue to be refined at an amazingly intricate degree, we are seeing more glaringly that the overarching goal is about finding the best articles/results. And while currency is still immensely important, statistics are showing a greater usage of a larger percentage of the backfile content than ever before. And logically so; after all, it’s about the content that best meets the need of the user. The best relevancy ranking systems (e.g., EBSCO Discovery Service, EBSCOhost, etc.) provide users with the most relevant articles, but when all things are equal, they favor the more current ones. This is different than simply offering the end user the crude choice of “relevance” vs. “date” sort. In a sea of hundreds of millions of articles, it becomes even more critical to concentrate on the “what” certainly as much as on the “when.”
“Embargoed” content was once seen as a hindrance to information access. However, academic librarians have come to understand that embargoes have brought full-text content to traditional full-text databases from publishers who would not otherwise participate (if not for the embargo). As a result, the opposite became true, where embargoes became a means for expanding access to information that was not previously available. While EBSCO provides non-embargoed access to the largest number of full-text journals available from any aggregator, the company also provides access to more journals with embargoed full text. While libraries sometimes penalize us through the procurement process for having more embargoed content, these same libraries have seen the value of inexpensive access to titles that may not already be available to their users. This content is playing an increasingly more valuable role in the quality of research—and the ultimate goal of end users (i.e., locating the ideal articles for their topic of interest). And in the process, libraries are set up to save money on document delivery and inter-library loan through a greater availability of backfile content.
Embargoed content in databases is becoming more akin to the way libraries view the value of archive content (e.g., JSTOR). While not a scenario of “ownership,” the value is in serving the immediate needs of end users. In addition, as users gain access to decades and even centuries of full-text content, these accessible backfiles become more and more visible with the combination of high-end subject indexing and full-text searching, as well as the rise of quality relevancy ranking. This idea of presenting content-in-context expands upon the value of the resources held by a library, providing the researcher with a grander view of the library’s collection in a way that makes practical sense. Again, the increased value comes from better approaches to the research “experience” to maximize the usefulness of the library collection for the end user—independent of where the item is located (i.e., which component of the library’s collection) and the date when it may have been published.
As we marry together the intricate combinations of the “first generation” discovery tools that are still common in the marketplace with the components that have become critical in more traditional refined research systems (e.g., EBSCOhost), we fall once again on the need for instant gratification, albeit in a larger, more sophisticated world. But why settle for less? Should we ask our researchers to sacrifice the features, functionality and instant access to full text that they have come to expect from their library services simply because we have a larger collection behind the search box?
The next generation of discovery is emerging as part of EBSCO’s desire to morph the clear notion of a discovery solution with that of a true academic research experience. For example, while EBSCO offers a link resolver of its own, we question the need for discovery services to force users over to other platforms 100% of the time. In other words, there is a need for a link resolver as these tools have obvious value, but they shouldn’t be the only way for users to gain access to full text. Instead, EBSCO Discovery Service aims to let users quickly search the entire library collection, access the most relevant results, become aware of related content-in-context, and instantly access full text directly within a single user experience—all while having the tools at their disposal to utilize the content as appropriate. In instances when a link resolver is necessary, it is available and presented as determined by the library.
While enhancements are constantly being made, this “new next” is available now, and it’s proving to facilitate an increase in usage from both a broad and deep perspective. Universities are experiencing increased value in leading subject indexes that drive even the most sophisticated graduate students to essential content, and are experiencing greater usage of critical, current content. In addition, users are finding gems in parts of the library collection that may have otherwise been “hidden,” or at least scarcely visible. While the “right” content may have always been there, they’re now beginning to find it.