Home 9 Blog Posts 9 Our Wicked Discovery Problem Part Two: Embed and Personalize

Our Wicked Discovery Problem Part Two: Embed and Personalize

by | Jul 13, 2022 | 0 comments


by Steven J. Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University Libraries

Editor’s Note: In Part One, Steven made the case that we have a significant problem with our discovery systems, using information from a recent webinar and study on library discovery and access. In Part Two, Steven shares recommendations from the study and his own conclusions about the actions librarians need to take before we are hopelessly irrelevant to the next generation of information seekers.

Here’s what’s ironic about our current library discovery system landscape.

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

Godin’s blog post states that what keeps us from being bored are those exact things librarians seem capable of delivering: more  stimulation, more options; more noise. Nope. That’s not working for us. Discovery is supposed to be exciting, not painful. It should arouse curiosity, not extinguish it. For library customers, discovery remains a pain point. What are our best options for resolving what’s been a long-time sore point for our profession?

The Librarian Futures report may offer some strategies for us. It clearly articulates our discovery system challenges. It also delves into what could better connect students and faculty with those same systems. For example, the report asks respondents about the ease of finding, user-friendliness and ease of use of “library resources and services”. The results, at least a 4 out of 5 where 5 corresponds to excellence, suggest all is well in libraryland. That’s helpful to know, but this question and others lack the granularity we need to really understand why, if our resources are so easy to find and use, that the vast majority of students and faculty prefer Internet search tools. I’m sensing a serious disconnect with these responses.

Is there hope for library discovery systems? The Librarian Futures report offers some possible solutions that, while hardly being new or shocking, remind us that we have more work to do:

  • Embed librarian chat and support directly into patrons’ digital workflows: Many of us are already do this with research guides that auto-embed in learning management course pages. That has proven mildly helpful. As a strategy it remains far too passive.
  • Embed library discovery directly into patrons’ digital workflows: The premise here is to accept that we have little hope of weaning students and faculty off their preferred Internet search tools and back to the library. Rather than fight we join. I’m all for having a library discovery option surface when library customers are searching the Internet. Can we even do that? Google Scholar already allows for a direct link to our full-text content. Great, but how many people actually search Google Scholar, let alone know how to set up the full-text connection to library content. Again, too passive.

Several of the remaining “provocations” are in the same vein. Find ways to embed the library so it has a presence in the user workflow, which is another way of saying “put the library where the users are”. The report shows that students and faculty find these suggestions of interest but there’s no indication they’d actually act on them.

The final provocation is the only one that, to my way of thinking, truly holds promise – but only if academic librarians are willing to be more aggressive, more out there is wanting to create a deeply personalized library experience that truly integrates with library customers and the way they work. If we want to die on the hill of refusing to capture sufficient patron information to offer proactive, personalized and integrated information search and delivery of content, we should just resign ourselves to being an afterthought in student and faculty information seeking behavior, no matter how great we think our discovery systems are.

What is that final provocative recommendation? A comprehensive library application.

What did the respondents think of that? Well, 88% of them said they “definitely would” or “probably would” adopt a highly integrated library app. Honestly, though, I think this is still insufficient. Many of us already offer library apps or the library is integrated into the campus mobile app. Adoption is the show stopper. Too few students and faculty see the value in adding a library app.

An app that does a better job of inserting the library discovery system into the user workflow is a good start. We could go even further. What about providing options for students and faculty to register for search updates when we add new resources and content on their identified research topics? What about proactive delivery of targeted research content from librarians based on prior search activity. Might current artificial intelligence technology allow us to do more with some form of predictive search results so we are able to connect users with library content before they even know they need it.

Is this all sounding too invasive? For some of you reading this, I know it is. Is it sounding way more convenient and less boring? I think Godin would say “go for it librarians.” Remember what he said in the Convenience and Boredom blog post:

And the cost of that convenience is high. We give up privacy, control and satisfaction to get it, in every corner of our lives.

According to the Librarian Futures report, students and faculty are ready for this. Are we? Do we think the coming generation, raised on screens, will be a good fit with the friendly, neighborhood librarian model?

What do you think? Are you all right with being inconvenient and boring? Are you all right with students and faculty saying great things about you and the library – and then going straight to Google every time they need to do some research? Or would like to see our millions of dollars of investment in staff, discovery layers and rich, deep content being put to much better use so it is truly impactful in the lives of our students and faculty?

Watch the video. Read the report. It’s like they say. The best future for academic librarians is the one we prefer – but it’s up to us to make it happen.


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