The objective of this project was to perform an environmental scan of next generation discovery interfaces. This included determining what products and features are currently available as well as exploring NLM’s needs in order to make recommendations for an improved portal to NLM’s varied resources. Currently, the information stored in NLM’s collections can be accessed through several different interfaces, including LocatorPlus (the Voyager OPAC), the NLM Catalog (in NCBI’s Entrez system), the NLM Gateway portal, and, in the future, the Fedora digital repository front page.
Over the course of several months, information was collected on different discovery interfaces through a variety of means. Vendor sites, blogs, conferences, gray literature, peer-reviewed articles, and other websites were found through various means, including database searches, conference attendance (e.g., Computers in Libraries), suggestions from the project leaders, by monitoring listservs (code4lib and NGC4LIB), and by “berry-picking” (many of the identified products were uncovered by perusing Marshall Breeding’s Library Technology website, for example). These sources were used to identify specific interfaces, provide examples, and to generalize current practices. Any websites that were deemed useful or potentially useful were collected in a Delicious (an online bookmarking website) account. Article citations found in library literature databases were collected using EndNote Web. In addition, the author identified and interviewed key players both inside and outside the National Library of Medicine with the help of the project leader. Trends were identified by compiling the interviews. Information was also gathered on the National Library of Medicine’s current catalog interfaces informally through NLM’s fact sheets and the interfaces themselves.
At final count, the scan resulted in a bibliography of 15 items, a recommended reading list of 75+ items, 6 internal interviews, and 3 external interviews. In addition, about 80 websites have been collected in Delicious, including example library catalogs, platform documentation websites, and related blog posts. This collection of websites may continue to grow as future work on an NLM discovery interface progresses. A comparison of features and which discovery platforms include them also resulted from this scan. The most pervasive theme found throughout is the call to design library catalogs that are intuitive to users; i.e. that work similarly to other commonly used web discovery interfaces (Google, Amazon.com, etc.). Associated with that theme is the request for features such as spell-checking, the inclusion of book covers, faceted search results, and the idea of a “one-stop shop.”
The findings of this scan support the idea that the National Library of Medicine can and should move towards improving its discovery interface in order to aid users in their quest for information and to expose NLM’s unique collections. There are numerous options available, both from commercial vendors and community-supported open source projects. NLM, with its strong technical capabilities and staff strengths, may do well to explore an open-source solution that can be manipulated in house. However, the key to making a decision will be to solidify which features are the most important and to do a cost-benefit analysis. User studies should also be encouraged, especially since NLM’s users are difficult to define. Finally, NLM should work to stay informed of trends and to be actively involved in discussions on discovery interfaces.