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Discovery is the researcher’s dream


Magaly Bascones ,

Discovery Manager, Digital Resources Division, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, GB
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Rebekah Cummings

Digital Matters, Librarian, Marriott Library, University of Utah, US
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Discovery is the researcher’s dream. The dream of a straightforward search that allows information seekers to find the content they are looking for and, more importantly, relevant content they do not yet know about. Librarians, system vendors and content providers aim to materialize this dream of efficient and accurate discovery motivated by rationales that vary from the noble goals of knowledge creation and sharing to profit-driven commercial grounds.

How to Cite: Bascones, Magaly, and Rebekah Cummings. 2021. “Discovery Is the Researcher’s Dream”. Insights 34 (1): 23. DOI:
  Published on 13 Oct 2021
 Accepted on 22 Sep 2021            Submitted on 22 Sep 2021

Discovery is the researcher’s dream. The dream of a straightforward search that allows information seekers to find the content they are looking for and, more importantly, relevant content they do not yet know about. Librarians, system vendors and content providers aim to materialize this dream of efficient and accurate discovery motivated by rationales that vary from the noble goals of knowledge creation and sharing to profit-driven commercial grounds.

The past 15 years has irrevocably altered the state of information discovery with traditional library catalogues competing with, adjusting to and leveraging search engine technology. Since Google’s initial public offering in 2004, search engines have dethroned catalogues and OPACs (online public access catalogues) as the one-stop solution and panacea for all search-related ills. Yet as searchers have largely migrated to Google in droves, particularly for non-academic information needs, the rich bibliographic data inside library catalogues have become increasingly valuable when opened to the web.1 Likewise, libraries have begun to leverage tools such as Google Analytics for their own discovery services and Google Maps for GIS (geographic information system) services, highlighting the increasingly symbiotic relationship between library and open web discovery.2

To meet the needs of information users growing increasingly accustomed to single search box technology, libraries began working with vendors in earnest around 2010 to implement resource discovery systems provided by EBSCO, Ex Libris, ProQuest, OCLC and others. With the arrival of vendor-based discovery services in libraries, a wide array of implementation case studies were published.3 In testing these new discovery systems, some libraries used it as an opportunity to test accessibility and discovery implementation.4

Libraries adopted resource discovery services to meet user needs, improve library interfaces and enhance user experience. Implementation of discovery services has cost libraries many hours working on the interface design in order to balance the need for end-user usability and the information displayed on the resources for different formats and access points;5 making surveys and analysis to measure the impact of the implementation.6

Despite all these efforts, soon after implementation, discovery tools started showing their gaps. The initial negative feelings among end-users highlighted that some were missing the simplicity of library catalogue searches and were feeling overwhelmed by the long list of results and access options.7 Another notable problem was the lack of meaningful analytics to assess performance and justify the return on investment for publishers.8 A secondary concern was the lack of transparency on the search algorithms used to connect users with content via the discovery systems, particularly salient considering the significant investment in library collections.9 The strong dependency of library systems in general and discovery tools in particular on the quality of metadata was exposed by Shadle in 2013 and Bascones and Staniforth in 2018.10

After all the efforts and excitement of implementation, it is clear that to materialize the dream of discovery we require the cross-sectoral collaboration of libraries, content providers and system vendors.11

These three main discovery actors have interdependent vital chemistry, but at the same time they are pulled apart by their own interests and priorities. Librarians carry on their shoulders the burden of making discovery tools work, but their solo efforts are not enough. Institutional initiatives show the powerful skills that libraries have and are examples of going beyond the commercial tools in the market.12 It is clear that the road of discovery required something other than individual efforts. Looking beyond the discovery ecosystem itself, libraries, content providers and system vendors could also benefit from working with each other to understand better user behaviours and digital experiences.

Ten years of Insights articles on discovery show us examples of indomitable spirits, stories of creativity, passion and perseverance, but the lofty promises of easy and effective discovery tools have not yet come to fruition. The tools are among us, but students, academics, librarians, publishers and service providers still lack certainty that the one-stop search box is giving them the full results, in the right order and using the proper criteria.

Now discovery is moving towards new horizons, opening up new ambitions based on the efforts of technology actors who are introducing free indexing services like Dimensions13 or using AI for more accurate search matches.14 But most importantly, the discussion about discovery is now also covering research data and data management.15

These new horizons bring new questions as, for example, the relevancy of discovery services (limited to the extent of an institutional library collection) vs. new indexing services (on principle including a greater diversity of metadata but probably excluding specialized and niche collections). The new developments also bring back ‘old’ questions like the one from Kortekaas and Kramer, who had the courage to move away from library systems and concentrate their efforts on delivery.16 On doing this, they decided not to pursue the dream of discovery, leaving their end-users to do what they are good at, finding what they need.17

Abbreviations and Acronyms

A list of the abbreviations and acronyms used in this and other Insights articles can be accessed here – click on the URL below and then select the ‘full list of industry A&As’ link:

Competing Interests

The authors have declared no competing interests.

References to articles in this special collection

  1. Edmund Chamberlain, “Where do we go with Union Catalogues?,” Insights 26, no. 2, (2013): 180–184, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  2. Roën Janyk, “Augmenting Discovery Data and Analytics to Enhance Library Services,” Insights 27, no. 3 (2014): 262–68, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  3. Marshall Breeding, “E-resource Knowledge Bases and Link Resolvers: An Assessment of the Current Products and Emerging Trends,” Insights 25, no. 2 (2012): 173–82, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Ben Elwell, “Implementing Summon: An Unexpected Journey,” Insights 26, no. 2. (2013): 147–52, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); James Kay, “Improving Access to E-resources for Users at the University of Derby: Enhancing Discovery Systems with Library Plus 2.0,” Insights 32, no. 1 (2019): 4, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Ronán Kennedy and Monica Crump, “Simplifying the Search Experience – Resisting the Lure of Shiny New Technology,” Insights 26, no. 2 (2013): 141–46, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Michael Levine-Clark, John Mcdonald, and Jason S Price, “The Effect of Discovery Systems on Online Journal Usage: A Longitudinal Study,” Insights 27, no. 3 (2014): 249–56, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Jeff Woods, Elizabeth Gillespie, and Catherine McManamon, “Discovering Discovery: Lessons Learnt from a Usability Study at the University of Liverpool,” Insights 29, no. 3 (2016): 258–65, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  4. Karen Carden, Sara Osman, and Sandra Reed, “Accessible by Design: Library Search at the University of the Arts London,” Insights 29, no. 2 (2016): 154–59, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  5. Kennedy, Crump, “Simplifying the Search Experience.” 

  6. Levine-Clark, Mcdonald, and Price, “The Effect of Discovery Systems on Online Journal Usage,” Woods, Gillespie, and McManamon, “Discovering Discovery.” 

  7. Kennedy, Crump, “Simplifying the Search Experience.” Elwell, “Implementing Summon.” 

  8. Linda Bennett and Zoe Loveland, “Making Metrics Meaningful,” Insights 26, no. 2 (2013): 128–34, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Janyk, “Augmenting Discovery Data and Analytics to Enhance Library Services.” 

  9. Rachel Kessler et al., “Optimizing the Discovery Experience Through Dialogue – a Community Approach,” Insights 30, no. 2 (2017): 31–35, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  10. Steve Shadle, “How Libraries Use Publisher Metadata,” Insights 26, no. 3 (2013): 290–97, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Magaly Bascones and Amy Staniforth, “What Is All This Fuss About? Is Wrong Metadata really Bad for Libraries and Their End-users?,” Insights 31, (2018): 41, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Caren Milloy, “Changing the Face of Scholarly Information Provision: A Case Study of Developing and Launching JISC Ecollections,” Insights 25, no. 1 (2012): 74–79, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  11. Martin Blenkle, Rachel Ellis, and Elmar Haake, “Only the First Results Count: User-feedback-modified Relevance Ranking in E-LIB Bremen,” Insights 28, no. 2 (2015): 75–80, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Sarah Bull and Amanda Quimby, “A Renaissance in Library Metadata? the Importance of Community Collaboration in a Digital World,” Insights 29, no. 2 (2016): 146–53, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Simon Inger and Tracy Gardner, “Library Technology in Content Discovery – Evidence from a Large-scale Reader Survey,” Insights 26, no. 2 (2013): 120–27, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Jenny Walker, “The NISO Open Discovery Initiative: Promoting Transparency in Discovery,” Insights 28, no. 1 (2015): 85–90, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  12. Linda Bennett and Dimity Flanagan, “Measuring the Impact of Digitized Theses: A Case Study from the London School of Economics,” Insights 29, no.2 (2016): 111–19, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Howard Ratner, H Frederick Dylla, and David Crotty, “CHORUS – Providing a Scalable Solution for Public Access to Scholarly Research,” Insights 27, no. 1 (2014): 68–74, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  13. Mark Williams, “Mobile Authentication and Access: Any Time, Any Place, Any Device?,” Insights 25, no. 3 (2018): 268–73, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  14. Ruggero Gramatica, and Ruth Pickering, “Start-up Story: Yewno: An Ai-driven Path to a Knowledge-based Future,” Insights 30, no. 2 (2017): 107–11, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  15. Michele P. Claibourn, “Bigger on the Inside: Building Research Data Services at the University of Virginia,” Insights 28, no. 2 (2015): 100–106, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Steven Inchcoombe, “The Changing Role of Research Publishing: A Case Study from Springer Nature,” Insights 30, no. 2 (2017): 10–16, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); John Kaye, Rachel Bruce, and Dom Fripp, “Establishing a Shared Research Data Service for UK Universities,” Insights 30, no. 1 (2017): 59–70, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021); Torsten Reimer, “The Once and Future Library: The Role of the (national) Library in Supporting Research,” Insights 31, (2018): 19, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  16. Simone Kortekaas and Bianca Kramer, “Thinking the Unthinkable – Doing Away with the Library Catalogue,” Insights 27, no. 3 (2014): 244–48, DOI: (accessed 17 September 2021). 

  17. Bascones and Staniforth, “What Is All This Fuss About? Is Wrong Metadata really Bad for Libraries and Their End-users?” 

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