In the rapidly moving world of discovery products, EBSCO Publishing has developed a series of products and partnerships that make it a strong competitor. A longstanding provider of aggregated article databases and other information products, EBSCO has extended its strategic product suite into the arena of broader discovery services. In recent months, the company has announced a number of partnerships for content and extensions to its technology platform related to this new suite of products and services.
The EBSCOhost Platform
EBSCO Publishing's primary business activity is the production of database products offered under the EBSCOhost platform. Over the years, the company has steadily expanded the number of databases it offers and has continually worked to ensure that the technologies used to deliver the database have evolved to meet changing customer needs. The current EBSCOhost platform represents the latest generation of the technology that aggregates, indexes, and delivers these information products. EBSCO currently offers over 350 research databases.
One example of the recent enhancements to the EBSCOhost platform is the incorporation of more sophisticated handling of scientific formulas. This new capability, announced in June 2009, allows users to enter queries involving formulas using natural language, and extends the database architecture to allow article titles, abstracts, and other fields to include scientific formulas. This feature, initially delivered in Inspec, will be valuable for the wide array of STM products delivered through EBSCOhost.
In recent years, libraries have become interested in discovery methods that provide more modern interfaces and that access the totality of their collections, spanning both print and electronic resources. EBSCO's products often form a large subset of a library's electronic resources, but the EBSCOhost platform has not previously been positioned as the tool for providing access to other sources of content. As EBSCO enters the discovery interface arena, they leverage their core business and technology assets to deliver access to all aspects of library collections, extending beyond their own information products.
Toward this end, the company has now developed new capabilities in the EBSCOhost platform, and has formed partnerships with other content providers and technology companies. These new products allow users to engage with a wide variety of content resources through the consistent interface of the EBSCOhost platform.
EBSCOhost Integrated Search
EBSCO's first foray into expanded discovery involves extending the reach of EBSCOhost through integrated federated search. The basic EBSCOhost provides access to the databases and content products available to the library through paid subscriptions from EBSCO. Through federated search, the EBSCOhost platform can be configured to deliver the user's query to other information resources and present the results, eliminating the need for users to traverse multiple interfaces as they perform their research.
This technique, known as metasearch, is subject to various technical challenges. Since it depends on real-time responses from the remote targets, it can be difficult to present results quickly and to retrieve large numbers of items.
EBSCO addressed this issue through a multi-tiered approach, where the highest priority and fastest-responding targets channel into an initial result set presented to the users while the system accumulates results from a secondary level of targets. The library's system administrator can configure the resources associated with each discipline and select priority levels. This tiered approach delivers results from native EBSCOhost resources instantly, since their indexes reside on the company's own servers, followed by top-tier external resources and supplemented by results secondary groups of resources.
EBSCO Discovery Service
In parallel to the development of EBSCOhost Integrated Search, the company is building a more sophisticated offering called EBSCO Discovery Service, based on comprehensive harvesting of external content that can be indexed on the company's own servers to deliver search results instantly. This approach falls well within the current trend for discovery services based on pre-populated indexes of harvested content instead of metasearch technologies. Summon from Serials Solutions, Primo Central from Ex Libris and WorldCat Local also follow this general approach, each with distinctive characteristics.
EBSCO Discovery Service takes advantage of the EBSCOhost platform to deliver a consistent interface for indexing, search, and retrieval technologies. It brings a wide range of electronic resources beyond the company's own databases and research resources through arrangements with a variety of partners into the platform.
One of the goals of this genre of discovery products is access to print and electronic collection components. To deliver access to a library's print collection, EBSCO has created partnerships with OCLC and with ILS vendors.
A key component of EBSCO Discovery Service includes harvesting and synchronizing metadata from the library's ILS. The technique of using protocols such as OAI-PMH to systematically harvest MARC records from an ILS and to use item-specific deep linking and APIs to present current circulation status and availability of items through has become well established in the genre of discovery interfaces. EBSCO Discovery Service follows this approach to address the resource managed within the ILS.
In July 2009, EBSCO and Ex Libris announced a partnership to provide access to content managed within ALEPH and Voyager integrated library systems through the EBSCOhost interface. The integration between these products is made possible through the APIs that Ex Libris offers for harvesting, realtime status and other features relevant to the connection of an ILS to a discovery product. This arrangement leverages Ex Libris' expertise in delivering content from its own products and competing ILS products to a discovery interface. In a complementary arrangement, EBSCO will provide Ex Libris content from selected EBSCOhost databases to help populate Primo Central, a repository of pre-indexed content available to libraries that use the Primo discovery interface.
EBSCO also brings assets that can be used for the enrichment of print content within an online catalog or discovery interface. In May 2009, the company announced NoveList Select as a feature that can be added to make recommendations to users for future reading selections based on material in the library's collection.
The EBSCO Discovery Service will have the capability to harvest and link to content housed in other repositories, such as institutional repositories and multimedia collections.
The content harvested from the ILS and local repositories will be incorporated into a customized view of the indexes created for each library. As multiple libraries participate in the EBSCO Discovery Service, each views only the content relevant to their own profile, including subscribed electronic resources, ILS and local repositories.
In addition to metadata regarding the library's print collection directly from the ILS, EBSCO Discovery Service will include a representation of 130 million records from WorldCat.org through a partnership with OCLC. These records provide discovery capabilities for print materials beyond the library's local collection. The WorldCat.org records will be harvested and indexed within the EBSCOhost platform, independent of OCLC's own facilities. This partnership also involves providing OCLC with metadata from EBSCOhost databases to add to the article content that will be part of WorldCat Local.
In order to comprehensively address the library's electronic collections, EBSCO Discovery Service will incorporate collections of article content from providers beyond what's available through the company's own EBSCOhost databases. EBSCO has created partnerships with a growing roster of publishers which have agreed to make their content available to be indexed in the EBSCO Discovery Service.
Users of the service will link to the content on the publisher's site when they select an item to view. Some of the content providers cooperating with EBSCO in this way include Readex, Alexander Street Press, NewsBank, and LexisNexis. At this point, not all publishers are willing to make their content available for indexing in discovery products. To provide access to resources not yet available for advance harvesting and indexing, libraries can layer in EBSCOhost Integrated Search.
EBSCO Discovery Service can be customized to convey the identity of the library, presenting the library's logo instead of EBSCO's. The library can specify color schemes, layout, and other user interface elements. Functionality from EBSCOhost, such as a search box, a-z lists, and journal home pages detailing volumes and issues can be delivered on any Web resource through a suite of gadgets that the company is currently developing.
EBSCOhost Integrated Search and EBSCO Discovery Service follow different approaches as discovery tools. EBSCOhost Integrated Search, based on metasearch, takes a less complex approach and will help libraries offer a broader discovery environment at a modest cost. EBSCO Discovery Service takes a much more sophisticated approach, appealing to libraries in need of a comprehensive search environment that brings together a library's print and electronic collection components.
The initial version of EBSCOhost Integrated Search was released in June 2009. The EBSCO Discovery Service continues development and customer testing, with general availability expected by year-end 2009. Pricing has not yet been established.
With the entry of EBSCO Discovery Service, the competitive market for discovery products based on pre-populated indexes of harvested content intensifies. It joins Summon from Serials Solutions, already in production in early adopting libraries, Primo Central, with expected year-end availability, and the ever evolving WorldCat Local. We are in the very early days of this new product model. This genre of product aims to deliver a discovery environment for library content that provides access to books, articles, digital resources, and other aspects of library collections through a single search, presented through an interface that library users will understand and easily navigate. As each of these products completes development and finds use in libraries, each will have the opportunity to demonstrate its ability to deliver on this incredibly ambitious vision. Libraries will benefit from the success of these products if they prove capable of delivering high-quality, selected and vetted library content using tools and technologies consistent with the broader Web.