OCLC has made another key step in the deployment of end-user search and discovery services through the launch of WorldCat Discovery Service. It will be the forward path for both WorldCat Local and FirstSearch. This new service will ultimately displace multiple products in OCLC's current product lines and is positioned as its strategic platform for enduser services, complementing the WorldShare Platform developed as the basis for its staff-oriented resource management services.
New Cloud-based Technology Platform
WorldCat Discovery Service provides a new technology platform and interface, based on a new technical architecture. According to Andrew Pace, OCLC Executive Director, Networked Library Services, WorldCat Discovery Services has been developed with an entirely new codebase that does not inherit programming from either WorldCat Local or FirstSearch. It preserves the basic structure of WorldCat Local, including reliance on the WorldCat database of bibliographic records and holdings to represent individual and collective library collections, a central article-level index based on metadata and full text representing thousands of collections of electronic resources, and the ability to integrate into local integrated library systems for current status and to place requests. Realtime availability and request features are native features for libraries using OCLC's WorldShare Management Services. In its handling of booksóboth print and electronicóthe service searches the entire WorldCat database, floating materials held by the user's local library to the top of the result listings. While the technology platform has been rebuilt and the interface redesigned, the shape of WorldCat Discovery Services models that of WorldCat Local.
Following the model of index-based discovery, WorldCat Discovery Service has indexed more than 1 billion article records. According to OCLC, the index covers more than 2,000 packages of electronic resources. The service relies on the article-level indexing arrangements with a wide range of content providers. The recent agreement with ProQuest alone provides access to more than 320 million records from 88 collections in ProQuest Central. The volume of article-level records OCLC mentions in its central index is similar to that reported by other discovery services such as those from EBSCO, Ex Libris, and ProQuest.
Path Forward for FirstSearch
The FirstSearch service from OCLC has been available since 1991 as an end-user reference tool, providing access to WorldCat (known then as the OCLC Online Union Catalog) and selected article databases. (See Library Systems Newsletter, November 1991).The initial version of FirstSearch relied on OCLC's proprietary communications network. A new Web-based version of the service was launched in August 2000. A substantial array of commercial databases was offered through FirstSearch in addition to end-user access to the global WorldCat catalog. OCLC recently has gotten out of the business of re-selling third party databases through FirstSearch. Apart from FirstSearch, end-user access to WorldCat.org has been available since 2006. In March 2012, OCLC transferred the rights to its remaining publisher_produced databases to EBSCO Information Services, retaining only the databases it creates directly.
With its withdrawal from providing access to commercial databases and the increased interest in broad-based discovery, OCLC has developed WorldCat Discovery Services in a way that can also satisfy the requirements of its FirstSearch subscribers.
WorldCat Discovery Services offers advanced search features similar to FirstSearch, an interface that with responsive design that adapts to mobile devices, managed access to digital collections, and access to a central article-level index. The base WorldCat Discovery Service package will be made available to FirstSearch subscribers without additional costs beyond their current subscription fees.
Libraries subscribing to FirstSearch will be granted access to WorldCat Discovery Service beginning in March 2014 as part of their current subscription package. This arrangement allows them to provide access to both services in parallel during a transition period and to schedule users' shift to the new product before the current FirstSearch service is discontinued in 2015.
Path Forward for WorldCat Local
Libraries currently using WorldCat Local as their discovery interface, whether with OCLC's own WorldShare Management Services or another ILS product, will also shift to WorldCat Discovery Service. For these libraries, a beta program will be offered beginning in April 2014, with a transition period continuing for 18 months until the current WorldCat Local service is retired. Beginning with its availability in March 2014, libraries can operate WorldCat Local and WorldCat Discovery Service in parallel, in preparation for a full switchover expected in by the end of 2015.
Features and Optional Components
The basic structure and feature set of WorldCat Discovery Service does not depart substantially from that of WorldCat Local. There will be some new capabilities and pricing options. WorldCat Discovery Service, will not be offered to all libraries without cost, but will be a replacement for those with active subscriptions to FirstSearch or WorldCat Local. For libraries that receive WorldCat Discovery Service via their FirstSearch subscriptions, additional fees will apply to gain access to optional features. For libraries that subscribe to WorldCat Discovery Service and also maintain their holdings in the WorldCat knowledge base, links will connect users to the full text of articles within subscribed resources. Users will also gain access to an integrated feature that presents A to Z list of e-journals and electronic resources. For these libraries, holdings will be presented first in end-user search results.
Some components of WorldCat Discovery Service will be offered optionally and subject to separate subscription fees. OCLC has designated real-time availability of local collections as an optional service. For those that want to use the product with a legacy automation product, synchronizing with their collection and enabling real-time availability involves a more complex installation process as well as maintaining the often fragile connecting mechanisms, warranting a separate subscription fee. This arrangement is not unlike OCLC's WorldCat Local quick start program, announced in March 2009, that allowed FirstSearch subscribers free access to WorldCat Local, though without holdings reclamation and only if they used one of the supported ILS products. Other optional subscription-based products offered to complement WorldCat Discovery Services include a course reserves module, group views of collections for library consortia, and customized use reports.
Potential Impact on Discovery Services Market
OCLC hopes to leverage its large customer base of more than 18,000 subscribers to FirstSearch to make a larger impact on the discovery services market. This group of FirstSearch subscribers includes some that use the basic package limited to WorldCat and others that subscribe to article content packages. The OCLC ArticleFirst database, for example, includes more than 27 million citation records from more than 16,000 sources. A discovery index covering more than 1 billion articles will provide access to a substantially larger body of content.
Libraries use FirstSearch as a database and not as their primary catalog or discovery service. Through OCLC's offer to provide WorldCat Discovery Service to FirstSearch subscribers with no additional costs, a large number of libraries will gain access to a full-featured discovery service. The version with neutral cost will not include functionality such as real-time status of their local holdings. It will be interesting to watch whether a significant portion of these libraries opt to implement WorldShare Discovery Services rather than one of the alternative services such as EBSCO Discovery Service, ProQuest Summon, or Ex Libris Primo Central. A similar arrangement was offered to FirstSearch subscribers with the earlier WorldCat Local quick start program, which did not result in massive numbers of library implementations.
Independent of OCLC's positioning of its service relative to competitors, the transition to WorldCat Discovery Services incrementally strengthens its offering in the sector of index-based discovery services. Given the momentum underway, OCLC must likewise aggressively develop and promote its service to maintain or grow its position in this sector.