Discovery and the Library’s Role
Last week, my new issue brief on discovery came out. Since its release, there has been some very interesting discussion on the topic. I’ve tried to bring together some of the commentary from Twitter and blogs here and to suggest some future directions these imply for our community.
A point of departure for the paper is an analysis of library directors’ responses to the strongly worded statement “It is strategically important that my library be seen by its users as the first place they go to discover scholarly content.” While I have used the strong agreement with this statement to suggest that respondents wish for the library to serve as the discovery starting point, some members of our community believe that while the starting point role may erode it may remain essential for the library to play a role in discovery. For example, Lisa Smith suggested surveying a parallel statement: “It is strategically important that my library be seen by its users as a key place they go to discover scholarly content.”
It is also worth looking at how discovery matters affect different members in our community. Rob Townsend of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences noted that shifts in discovery pose a “particular challenge for humanities,” which seems right given that many discovery environments are optimized more for the journal literature than for the diversity of materials that humanists value. Casey Kane remarked that current awareness “is much more of an issue in the sciences than in the humanities.” While immediacy may be most significant in scientific fields, current awareness is important for scholars and researchers of all stripes, and the importance of the book review as a current awareness tool for humanists is notable. And it was interesting to hear from Fred Stielow that at an institution as non-traditional as the American Public University System, the library is returning to a curatorial role of developing what he called “pick lists” to help faculty members build course reading lists that can also serve as “controlled launching pads” for student research projects.
Bloggers have picked up on several other themes in the paper. Chris Bulock supports some new directions for discovery, such as a rethinking of current awareness and a curiosity about whether “opt-in personalization for library systems would allow us to respect our users’ privacy, agency, and better enable them to do the things they want to do.” And Gavia Libraria (the Library Loon) suggests that some of the ways in which current awareness may be shifting will impact the trust and authority that publishers are able to provide at the title level for journals. These comments only serve to increase my interest in whether current awareness could become a strategic “master switch” for libraries and content providers alike.
Several commenters suggested that controlling discovery should not matter to the library, at least in the long term. Mike McGrath noted significantly that nevertheless “delivery takes place in or via” the library. On Twitter, John Mark Ockerbloom stated the case clearly: “I’m fine with discovery starting elsewhere, as long as readers end up with resources they need…often…library resources.” But Pongracz Sennyey suggested a long-term possibility, that while his college’s discovery service’s single point of entry was a requirement that has served to increase content usage, over time it points towards “one more step towards distintermediation.”
We have already heard from several libraries that this issue brief is serving as a jumping-off point for their discussion and internal planning processes. Discovery has clearly emerged as a big issue facing academic libraries, begging for real evidence and systematic analysis to support sound decision-making.