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Innovative Launches Inspire Discovery

Smart Libraries Newsletter [May 2019]


Innovative has launched a new patron-facing search interface, branded as Inspire Discovery, positioned as its next generation discovery technology. The company officially launched the product at the ACRL conference in Cleveland, OH on April 10, 2019. Inspire Discovery is the initial product built on a new technology platform from Innovative that has been in the design and development stage since early 2017.

Inspire: Innovative's New Multi-tenant Platform

Innovative is developing a new technical platform, branded as Inspire, which will provide the foundation for its new generation products. The Inspire platform is a new multi-tenant environment based on the microservices architecture. Some of the core components of the platform include an Application programming interface (API) gateway, an API registration and discovery service, and a messaging bus. The platform is deployed through Amazon Web Services.

Inspire provides support for multiple data storage and indexing services for applications operating on the platform. It includes PostgreSQL for transactional data, Elasticsearch for keyword indexing and relevancy, and the Dgraph graph database for semantic relationships.

The platform will interoperate with a variety of external systems and services. A set of connectors, for example, will enable data exchange and functional operations with Innovative's ILS products, Sierra and Polaris. APIs will be developed as needed to interoperate with any relevant external systems and services.

The Inspire Discovery service is the first product Innovative has deployed via this new platform. The Inspire platform will support additional modules and services as Innovative builds out its suite of next-generation products.

Inspire Discovery

Innovative designed its new Inspire Discovery service to provide a unique set of capabilities distinct from other products on the market. Its interface includes the usual search box that returns lists of results ranked according to relevancy. But it also goes beyond record lists, providing a context-based visual experience for exploring concepts and relationships in resources explore pathways for discovery that might not be apparent through established conventions such as facets.

Scope of Discovery

The body of linked data addressed by Inspire Discovery currently includes the resources of the library represented in BIBFRAME format. Innovative harvests the MARC records from the library's ILS and transforms them into BIBFRAME, which emerged out of the Library of Congress's bibliographic transformation initiative. The library can also opt to ingest other types of local resources, such as their institutional repository or digital collections.

Innovative has also built a central repository of articlelevel data so that electronic resources will be discoverable along with the library's collection materials. The primary source of the article-level content is the Crossref database, which currently contains over 104 million records, including 77 million journal articles and 15 million book chapters. The Crossref data is transformed into linked data as it is ingested and loaded into the its internal graph database and indexed by Elasticsearch. The discovery service does not index the full text of article. Rather, as explained by Kathryn Harnish, Senior Vice President of Product Strategy, “Inspire Discovery enables precision searching without the overwhelming number of results that are returned by full-text searches, results that the user must figure out how to contextualize and process.”1 Innovative is working with a third-party partner that acquires the full text of the articles and uses a set of semantic enrichment algorithms to generate concept terms associated with the content of each page of the articles. About six to eight concepts are generated for each page of full-text content. These concepts are incorporated into the keyword indexes and graph database and linked with other resources, concepts, and persons in the Context Engine.

Driven by Linked Data

The Inspire Discovery service relies on bibliographic data based on BIBFRAME data model with an emphasis on leveraging relationships and linkages among resources, concepts, and people. The resources represented primarily include the library's collection items, including print and electronic materials. Concepts are based on subject and other elements in the BIBFRAME entities. Linkages relating to people include the individuals and organizations involved in creating content.

This linked data model enables the Inspire Discovery to create result sets based on multiple elements of context. In addition to initial search results produced through a comprehensive Elasticsearch index, Inspire Discovery also taps into a graph database that enables users to explore connections among resources expressed in the underlying linked data entities.

A New Discovery Interface

The Inspire Discovery interface has many familiar components. Its initial page offers a search box, which includes a drop-down option enabling the user to change from the default Everything to other search options. Once the user enters a search, the interface returns a list of resources, following many of the expected conventions, including a set of facets on the left and the main pane displaying records for each of the search results. Each item view includes cover art when available or a placeholder as well as indicators for resource type and any available descriptive metadata. A Get It button is available on each record, which facilitates requests for physical items, e-books, and articles through the library's link resolver, presenting options on how to view or request the item. Inspire Discovery can work with Innovative's own WebBridge, or it can be configured to use any of the other link resolvers.

The interface for Inspire Discovery is based on the Angular web framework, originally developed at Google. The use of this framework ensures that the interface is fully responsive and works well across all types of devices and will adhere to accessibility standards. This aspect of the search and retrieval of the product is based on Elasticsearch technology. Results to queries will encompass the library's own resources and the indexed articlelevel electronic resources.

Context Wheel: Graphical Interaction with Results

Inspire Discovery aims to offer a distinctive experience for researchers in the way that it provides access to library collections. Each resource record returned will also present an Explore More button, which then launches a visual tool called the Context Wheel. This exploration tool provides a visual view of the relationships of resources, concepts, and people represented within the resources and the search context, but it also enables users to explore those relationships and generate new result sets. The user, for example, can select any of the presented concepts and generate a list of the corresponding resource records. Likewise, multiple concepts can be combined for listing results.

The interface includes a Workbench that enable a user to save or pin records or searches to use later.

Target Audience

The initial version of Inspire Discovery has been designed for academic libraries. Harnish indicates that work is underway to create features that will be of interest to public libraries.

Expected Availability

Innovative reports that it is working with 70 libraries as strategic partners for Inspire Discovery. Development partners include Hillsdale College in Michigan, Cairn University in Pennsylvania, and Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma.

Innovative states that Inspire Discovery is available for academic libraries effective of its launch in April 2019 and that the product is now available for production implementations.

Next Generation Product Strategy

Inspire Discovery can be seen as the first phase of Innovative's strategy to develop a suite of new-generation products to complement its current slate of products.

Innovative initially launched its Encore discovery interface in May 2006. Although the product has seen ongoing development and enhancement throughout its history, it continues to rely on proprietary keyword indexing and relevancy technology. Inspire Discovery aims to provide a significantly more powerful and intuitive environment than Encore and other discovery tools used in the academic library arena.

Following the release of Inspire Discovery, Innovative will continue to develop new applications on this platform to complement or eventually provide forward migration paths for some of its established products. No specific time lines have been announced for these future products.


Innovative Interfaces finds itself in a very challenging business environment. The company has a broad customer base, including public libraries, academic libraries, law libraries, and other types. The competition in the academic sector has been especially fierce, with vendors such as Ex Libris and OCLC developing specialized products that have a long head start and strengthening maturity. The immanent implementation of FOLIO by some early adopters may also mean additional competition in the academic library front. Some of the gains by these products have come at the expense of Innovative, SirsiDynix, and other ILS companies that have more generalized products oriented to multiple library types.

From its earliest days, Innovative has generally followed strategy of evolutionary product development. There was a continuous path in its ILS product as it morphed from INNOPAC to Millennium and eventually Sierra. Each of these products preserved core software components and functionality, though deploying new interfaces and reengineering architectures to then current standards. While this strategy meant that each iteration of the product inherits rich functionality from its predecessor, it also missed opportunities to make an entirely fresh start and embrace new models of functionality.

The development of the Inspire platform represents a major departure from Innovative's traditionally evolutionary development strategy. The creation of an entirely new product suite is a long-term project. Efforts have taken at least three years to create a comprehensive library services platform. The development timeline of Inspire Discovery has been ambitious, especially considering that it also involves the development of the platform infrastructure intended as the foundation for a broad suite of products.

Innovative's design of the technology architecture of the Inspire platform seems consistent with current enterprise software trends. The microservices architecture has been well accepted in the broader high-tech industry, including Google, Amazon, Netflix, Uber, and almost all other globally deployed services. In the library space, FOLIO is being developed using a microservices framework. The use of graph databases and linked data is also a forward-looking approach, including the internal use of BIBFRAME as a library-specific implementation of linked data concepts.

It will be interesting to observe the impact that this new product strategy has for Innovative and the library community. The key issue in the short term is whether these new products will strengthen Innovative's position with academic libraries in the context of formidable competition. Will a more compelling discovery product make libraries more interested in staying with or moving to Sierra? In the long term, a completed suite of products based on the Inspire platform could add a new alternative to the mix as libraries seek to replace their aging ILS products.

View Citation
Publication Year:2019
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 39 Number 05
Issue:May 2019
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:24466
Last Update:2022-11-14 05:40:28
Date Created:2019-07-26 07:27:31