Discovery–a new pathway to information

November 9, 2012

I just finished reading A Haystack Full of Needles by Jim Hornthal.  This work is a TedBooks venture and is pretty short (about 80 pages on my iPad).  It offers some great, concrete examples of current discovery and how it helps everyone, from travelers to music lovers, find exactly the information that they need.  Here is a brief summary from the website:

“…innovators who are using data science and data visualization — and looking for patterns — to isolate relevant signals in the noise. Their efforts will have enormous implications for the way we practice medicine and discover new music and movies…”

A couple of interesting points I highlighted:

  • “The Web has become a tragedy of the commons, a social system ruled by spam–over 90% of URLs today are pure junk!”
  • “…there is an escalating need for expert-based recommendation engines to separate the wheat from the chaff.”
  • “…knowledge is a love affair with answers; wisdom is a love affair with questions.”
  • There are 3 kinds of searches: informational (most common); navigational (60% of search); transactional (trying to find something specific.)
  • “The search of tomorrow is more about actions and decisions, not just about finding.”
  • Old search:” static and specific”; new search: “predictive and personalized.”
  • Discovery:” intimacy and personalization”

Discovery is something being explored by libraries and librarians more and more these days.  This Library Journal article from March 15, 2011 discusses how discovery services can help increase the usage and “findability” of resources, enabling people to get the information they want without having to wade through the information glut that exists in just plain Google or catalog searching. Another article (Coming into Focus) from the October 15 Library Journal (p. 34) discusses discovery services as well.

EBSCO Discovery Services offers a platform for discovery and touts not just “single search” but also high indexing which provides an intuitive experience.  The EBSCO people feel that discovery is critical to the future of libraries, and it may well be true. EBSCO even states that “as  EDS continues to evolve, the end goal remains the same—helping users to find and access the highest-quality content for the best-possible research experience.”

Librarians are and have always been a “discovery service”; they can take the information you give to them and parse it so that the library user comes away with a focused and finite result.  Librarians are often also people who draw upon their own experiences and knowledge of the community to offer suggestions of “other things to read”, or “if you like this museum, you may like this one.” I think this speaks to the “intimacy”, “predictive”, and “personalization” aspects of information search.

I have yet to use a discovery service in my role as either patron or librarian.  Based upon the Hornthal book, I can foresee this as a great search tool.  Having more finite and intuitive information at your fingertips could make the research process less daunting; however, the combination of both human and data analysis could more expertly bridge that gap between getting lots of junk and getting exactly what you need.

Have you used a discovery service? What is your impression?  Which ones have you used?  Is this the future or savior of the library?

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