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Smart Libraries Q&A: Discovery services for School Libraries

Smart Libraries Newsletter [December 2020]


As a K-12 librarian who works in a library that serves Grades 6–12, I'd like to learn more about discovery services. I know that many university libraries use discovery services, enabling searchers to evaluate “hits” across many different databases and resources. If I were to subscribe to a discovery service, would I be promoting college level research habits? Or is it preferable to encourage my students to learn how to use specific databases for specific projects?

Each type of library has its distinctive requirements for technology-based services. Academic, public, and school libraries serve quite different communities, managing distinct types of collections and service offerings. This assertion especially holds in the K-12 educational environment.

The databases and other content products made available through libraries continue to be critical resources for learning and research. There will be some overlap between the products typically found in school libraries and those provided by college and university libraries. Knowing what database is best suited for any given research project is one of the greatest challenges for students and researchers. Librarians work hard to provide instruction sessions or to create subject guides that help students select the appropriate databases or content resources and give tips on how to use them effectively. Discovery services represent another approach by collectively searching all the resources, providing a unified result set, and identifying the source publication or database of each item. A thorough research process includes both surveying the literature with a broad-based discovery tool and more indepth exploration with the appropriate specialized sources or databases.

Whether the school library provides individual databases or a comprehensive discovery service will depend not only on funding but also on the expectations of the teachers and librarians. The specific products and services selected will need to take into consideration the requirements of school libraries, which are distinct from those of colleges and universities. K-12 libraries strive to align content with the needs of each student or teacher. Factors that must be taken into consideration include reading level, grade, age, and learning capabilities.

Schools often must work within tight budget limitations that limit the acquisition of classroom and library materials. The quantity of material provided by school libraries tends to be limited in comparison to college or university libraries. It is also important to consider that students, as minors, may also have legal restrictions on what content may be provided to them by their schools. For some schools, access to federal or state funding may be tied to enforcement of content filtering of material characterized as pornographic, offensive, or sensitive. School librarians and teachers often face many challenges in selecting the best learning materials that match their student's capabilities and that fall within the scope of acceptable or available content.

This complex set of factors bring implications on the discovery services that might be implemented in a school library. Follett and other vendors specializing in K-12 school technologies and content services have created specialized discovery services and content packages. These products differ substantially from those adopted in higher educational institutions.

School librarians naturally strive to prepare students for the educational environment they will experience in higher education. Most college and university libraries provide a discovery service as an entry into the print and electronic resources in their collections. The key discovery products associated with academic libraries include Primo and Summon from Ex Libris, EBSCO Discovery Service, and OCLC's WorldCat Discovery Service. Each provides broad access to the library's local print collections and the electronic scholarly resources available through library subscriptions, as well as open access materials. Using one of these products may serve as a helpful preview of the library resources that students may experience in their future colleges or universities.

This genre of index-based discovery services is designed to enable access to the broadest possible representation of available content, with the ability for users to narrow search results according to various categories. While facets may be available for reading level or Lexile scores, it may not be possible to enforce mandatory restrictions as may be expected in a school environment.

The products designed for academic and research libraries may not always be well suited for use by younger students. Two primary concerns apply when evaluating discovery services for school libraries:

  • Can the discovery service enforce the scope of search and the results returned to be consistent with the content restrictions required by the school jurisdiction?
  • Does the discovery service include the content resources and databases to which the school subscribes? The content indexed within the major discovery products tends to be weighted toward resources of interest to higher educational students and faculty. Schools interested in these products would need to verify that their content of interest is indexed.

Discovery services, including those designed for school and university settings, address diverse collections of content. The result listings in response to a query will include items from many different content sources. The searcher will need to discern the reliability and suitability of any item of interest— a crucial information literacy skill. Even when searching a single database, the items within that database may be supplied by publications of differing reliability, scope, and educational levels.

Helping students learn to evaluate materials will be an important opportunity that applies regardless of the interfaces that may be provided by the school library. It is also important to consider that even when the college or university library provides a discovery tool, most students will rely on the lesscontrolled environments of Google or Google Scholar. Instilling information literacy skills will be essential for students regardless of technology or content packages implemented by the school library.

View Citation
Publication Year:2020
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 40 Number 12
Issue:December 2020
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smart Libraries Q&A
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:25768
Last Update:2022-11-14 05:38:53
Date Created:2020-12-12 10:53:11