The Role of Search and Discovery in Libraries

The Role of Search and Discovery in Libraries

Search and discovery has always been a core component of Library and Information Science. Cataloging information has been somewhat problematic for libraries since the 7th century BCE. Early libraries, however, didn’t have the abundance of information found in today’s systems. They could only solve the information problem by posting catalogs on their walls.

Today, libraries face exponential information growth that now requires organizational help from computers. The role of search and discovery software has become increasingly important in library systems that are responsible for both digital and print materials.

Technology Creates Rapid Information Growth – But is it Useful?

Computer technology makes it possible for people to create information at increasingly fast rates. Some experts believe that the amount of information in the world doubles every two years. This unlimited growth potential presents a serious challenge for those responsible for cataloging the information.

Not all of this information has an obvious use. Anyone with an Internet connection can create a blog that lets him or her publish information online. Further, services such as Facebook and Twitter offer other ways of distributing information that may not have practical uses. Search and discovery software can only help solve the information problem if it also helps separate useful information from non-useful information.

Search and Discovery Within a Library

Internet users rely on search engines like Google to help them locate useful information. Google does this by organizing and ranking websites in its index. Top-ranked pages are likely extremely visible with the search results because they likely contain pertinent, useful information.

Libraries can use similar search and discovery software with their own digital content.

Making the library’s full catalog available requires an extra step, and it’s a pretty important one. Library patrons who are searching for a book or magazine often use keywords other than the obvious (like the title and author’s name). Further, patrons who aren’t certain what materials they want will require systems that include extensive metadata about items within the library’s catalog. Such metadata can rank results and help patrons decide which items they want to look for and which they want to reject.

Because of this, today’s students of Library and Information Science study more than just cataloging.  They have to understand the intricacies of patrons needs, and understand the tools necessary (both digital and print) to fulfill them.

Remote Access to Library Search and Discovery

Most libraries offer their patrons remote access to catalogs as well. This means libraries must make their local search and discovery software available via the Internet. Making a library catalog available online means that libraries have to invest in a client/server architecture that accounts for:

  • The client’s computer
  • An application server
  • Extensive databases

Since the search and discovery software works online, it also helps for database architects to follow Internet protocols. That means learning to use:

  • Hypertext markup language (HTML)
  • Hypertext transfer protocols (HTTP)
  • Uniform resource identifier (URI)
  • Uniform resource locator (URL)

These attributes can make library search and discovery software easier to use, more accessible and therefore more helpful.

Anticipating the Future of Search and Discovery Software

Libraries have changed significantly over the last few decades. Patrons who frequented libraries in the 1990s or before may feel slightly unfamiliar with today’s web portals that provide access to catalogs, articles, and other types of information.

Current search and discovery software offers a much more intuitive service that often includes full books, audio records, and videos that patrons can access online. It’s an amazing step towards bringing digital and print materials together in a unified system. As information and the way people use information continues to change, librarians can expect to face new search and discovery challenges.

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