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Discoverability of Library Collections

Library Technology Newsletter [April 2022]

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Libraries want their collections to be easily accessed by their communities. They provide catalogs or discovery services through their websites to enable efficient ways to search, request, or download materials. It's also important to enable convenient access to library materials to those that begin from Google or other popular web destinations.

Multiple technologies and services help their patrons find and access items in a library's collection. Library catalogs have long been the primary tool for search and access of library collections, and continually strive to be more effective and easier to use. For most libraries, the online catalog provides comprehensive coverage of all items in the collection, including owned and licensed materials. Online catalogs have evolved to become easier to use and to address all aspects of library collections, including print, electronic, and digital materials. Libraries also benefit from additional pathways to their collections. The concept of discoverability considers other ways to access library materials other than the traditional catalogs and discovery services.

Discovery vs Discoverability

Table 1: Discovery and Discoverability
VendorDiscoveryDiscoverability
EBSCO EBSCO Discovery Service NoveList Linked Library Service
SirsiDynix Enterprise BLUEcloud Visibility+
OverDrive Libby, Sora
OverDrive-hosted library-branded digital collections
Delivery of JSON feeds to Google Search
OCLC WorldCat Discovery ; FirstSearch WorldCat library web visibility program
BiblioCommons BiblioCore Organic link exposure
Koios Services based on Google Ad Grants
Innovative Vega Discover, Encore
Open source VuFind, Blacklight, Aspen Discovery, Pika

One of the limitations with library catalogs relates to their departure from routine patterns of finding items on the web. For almost any category of product or service, a search on Google, or other search apps, will present the options available to that person, taking into consideration their location, and times available. If I type a Google search for “pipe wrench,” for example, the top results will include specific pages at national chains and local hardware stores, with links to each destination's page to buy the item online or what nearby store to visit and when it is open. If my needs are more complicated, I might do a more thorough search through the website of my preferred business.

The same process applies to books, movies, and other items offered by a library. To use the online catalog, patrons need to find the library on the web or their mobile devices before they can start looking for items of interest. But that pathway alone does not give the best exposure to library items, given that most people usually just type that they are interested in Google, or another general search engine, and expect to see the items in search results. Regular library users will take the time to find their library's website and catalog, though others may not take that approach. It benefits libraries when their materials are discoverable directly on the web, in addition to the catalogs and other tools that they provide. Moving beyond discovery to discoverability continues to be an important concern for libraries.

Discovery: Tools or services that libraries provide, usually through their websites, to enable users to search and provide access to their collections. These tools include online catalogs, discovery interfaces, index-based discovery services, subject guides, or subject-oriented abstract and indexing products.

Discoverability: services or methodologies that enable library materials to be found though general web search engines without having to make use of library-provided discovery tools. These services make use of techniques that facilitate the inclusion of library content items in the search results or knowledge panels of Google or other popular web search services.

Table 1 presents the discovery products from some of the main library technology vendors as well as services offered to improve discoverability of library resources on the web.

Google Search basics

Google populates its search index by crawling the web with automated bots that systematically visit pages on the web and extract content. These bots will follow and process links within each page. A separate set of bots and indexes apply to mobile search. Google does not add pages to its mobile search that are not considered mobile friendly. Organizations can test their websites to verify that they meet the Google's guidelines to be usable by mobile devices.

While the Google bots can process web pages based on the displayed text and images, adding structured data facilitates indexing and can improve the way that a page appears in Google search results. Internal coding can be added to web pages, following frameworks such as schema.org, identify and classify content to guide web crawlers and other automated process.

The discipline of search engine optimization (SEO) concentrates on techniques that help a website to perform well in the organic search results in Google and other search engines.

Google uses geographic information to deliver relevant search results. It can determine the location of the user though information provided through their browser or app, based on their IP address, GPS data from their mobile device, nearby Wi-Fi networks or other clues. Google also collects information regarding the physical location of sites and items it indexes, though physical addresses listed on the site, or other data embedded in the site. Location data for the user and items in its indexes enables Google to present results based on geographic proximity. Google collects data on business hours and the time zone of the user to show whether the destination is open or closed at the time of the search.

Google Search Example
Figure 1: Google Search Example

Figure 1 illustrates the typical way that Google presents the results of a search. Below the search bar, which carries the text of the query performed falls the listing of organic search results. These results are presented based on relevancy algorithms and items from the appropriate Google index (desktop or mobile). In this case, no sponsored ads were displayed. The “People also ask” section is derived from common questions associated with the search query.

Knowledge panels

A Knowledge panel appears to the right of the search results column, derived from the knowledge graph that Google assembles from multiple sources of structured data and other feeds. Google support provides additional information about knowledge panels.

Knowledge panels are automatically generated, and information that appears in a knowledge panel comes from various sources across the web. In some cases, we may work with data partners who provide authoritative data on specific topics like movies or music, and combine that data with information from other open web sources.

See also: A reintroduction to our Knowledge Graph and knowledge panels by Danny Sullivan, Google's Public Liaison for Search.

Books in Google search

Google offers multiple paths for easy access to books, including organic and sponsored items in search results as well as Knowledge panels which bring together many details, sources, and actions relevant to a specific item.

Search results for a book title or author will list relevant items found in the Google index. These search listings will include items from Amazon or other online retailers, the item on the author's or publisher's website, Wikipedia entries, and many other relevant sources.

It has become increasingly challenging to create mechanisms to enable books or other collection items to appear in the organic results in response to a Google search that link to a specific library's catalog or lending service. Knowledge panels provide more scalable and reliable way to connect searchers to items from a library.

BorrowAction in Knowledge Panels

Alt text here
Schema example for Library System

The Knowledge panels for books enable two types of actions that enable persons to acquire a copy of the title. The ReadAction leads to ways to purchase the book through a local or online bookstore. The BorrowAction connects individuals to a local library to request or directly borrow it. Separate borrow actions may be presented for each format of the title available, including those for print versions in hardcover or paperback, for ebooks, and for audiobooks. Multiple borrow actions may also be presented when the item is available in multiple nearby libraries.

The Google Developers center documents how providers supply JSON feeds to populate the BorrowAction presented in search result pages.

The BorrowAction depends on feeds provided to Google from organizations that provide access to large collections of books available for borrowing. Each provider must supply two feeds for each library, one that describes the works available and another that gives the structured data for the library. Both feeds must follow the structured data formats defined in schema.org. The library feed includes data describing the library system, its members or branches, and the address of each location. Book feeds include descriptive text, edition, format, unique identifiers (ISBN, OCLC numbers), and the available BorrowActions. The BorrowAction of the feed provides the template for the URL that must be generated to take searchers to the specific page to borrow the item.

Google launched the BorrowAction in its knowledge panel for books in 2019. Prior to this time, libraries and library vendors faced the challenging task of making library collection items appear in organic search results. As part of the advancement of library discoverability, Zepheira worked with Schema.org to create the create the schema.org/BorrowAction

In this issue

This issue of Library Technology Newsletter presents some of the major products and services available to libraries to facilitate the discoverability of their collection items in Google Search. These include Overdrive's efforts to enable borrow actions for ebooks, OCLC's discoverability service, EBSCO NoveList Linked Data Service, SirsiDynix BLUEcloud Visibility+, and the service available from Koios based on sponsored advertising.


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Publication Year:2022
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Library Technology Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 1 Number 04
Issue:April 2022
Page(s):1
Publisher:Library Technology Guides
Series: Guidepost
Place of Publication:Nashville, TN
Record Number:27289
Last Update:2022-07-04 19:30:12
Date Created:2022-05-12 08:51:26
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