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Commentary: Still Saying No to Discovery Services

July 8, 2013

I came across this recent article about the negative aspects of using discovery tools in library websites. This inspired me to revisit our library’s current decision to resist adopting a discovery service framework for our library website.  I continue to support our library’s decision to decline to purchase and use a discovery service tool.

Essentially, discovery services ‘googleize’ library resources. Rather than requiring students to search the library catalog for books/videos, and journal databases such as Academic Search Complete for general journal articles or Medline/PubMed for medical journal articles, the discovery service merges all resources together regardless of format into one searchable database listing results by relevancy, in an attempt to mimic Google.

There are certainly good reasons for a library to choose to adopt a discovery service. It does simplify searching, especially for students just learning how to do research, because they just have to type their keywords into one search box and receive results from all types of library resources such as books or journal articles.

However, there are still many significant reasons why a library should resist adopting this framework for their site. The article lists many of these reasons such as encouraging poor search strategies and increasing information overload. I would like to explore a few other reasons to support my position of choosing not to adopt a discovery service for our college library.

I think that discovery services further blur the important lines among formats. Because of Google, students already do not recognize the differences among formats. They select a link and use it, not stopping to determine if they are using a book, article, blog, or general webpage. This impairs their research strategies when moving to more advanced topics. Students needs to understand the publishing process, and the different academic characteristics of books, articles or webpages. They need to determine whether they are looking for an older overview (book), peer reviewed up-to-date research on a narrow topic (journal article), or just need a quick web reference. If students don’t realize the format differences of what and where they are searching, and if they do not understand the academic publishing process, their research and selection of quality research sources for advanced research topics will suffer.

As a medical and science librarian I am wary of discovery service tools. It is critical for students and health care professionals to know how to search medical literature databases such as Medline/PubMed, using advanced research skills. It is also just as critical for them to discover, evaluate and use the most recent evidence-based research on a specific medical topic. By necessity, discovery search topics lead to general sources in ‘relevance’ order rather than specific subject searches in date order. This could lead to healthcare being provided using outdated and perhaps dangerous information. Healthcare students must learn how to search specific medical literature databases with advanced research techniques to improve health care practice. Discovery tools simply do not meet this requirement.

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