The Discovery Diaries

Former Executive Director, OhioLINK
Tuesday, October 7, 2014 - 2:15pm (updated Friday, October 10, 2014 - 9:31am)
The Digital Shift

On Oct. 1, 2014, OhioLINK Executive Director Gwen Evans and INFOhio Executive Director Terri Fredericka presented “The Discovery Diaries: How two consortia with one mission are bringing the discovery layer to two million Ohio students” at the virtual conference The Digital Shift: Libraries @ the Center. The full conference program has been archived here (must register to view): The talk was sponsored by EBSCO Information Services.

Ask college librarians how prepared they think incoming freshmen are for college-level work, and their answers are sadly consistent: today’s students aren’t prepared. Bridging that gap is a common interest for OhioLINK, Ohio’s academic library consortium, and INFOhio, Ohio’s PreK-12 digital library. Drawing on their 20-year history of working together – along with public libraries and the State Library of Ohio – to cost-effectively provide research resources to all Ohioans, OhioLINK and INFOhio are now investigating the next step. Using a common tool – EDS – but two different approaches, OhioLINK and INFOhio are transforming research with search and discovery and helping ease the transition to college for Ohio’s students.


The state of Ohio has a long history of cooperation between libraries and between library consortia. OhioLINK has 91 member libraries (nearly all the institutions of higher education in Ohio,) with members ranging from all the public two and four year institutions through a number of independent private colleges, including small theological seminaries. OhioLINK serves approximately 600,000 FTE as well as faculty, researchers, and staff. INFOhio is the Ohio P-12 library consortium, serving 1.9 million students, their teachers, and their parents. INFOhio and OhioLINK, as well as the State Library of Ohio and OPLIN, the Ohio public library consortium, have cooperated for more than ten years on funding and providing a common set of databases that are available statewide to all Ohioans, and now our two consortia are collaborating on a discovery layer for P-20 education.

OhioLINK’s journey to Discovery was a function of the unusually large amount of content available to all our members, so we had a substantial “silo problem” across the state no matter the size of institution. The member community was seeking a solution that would work for as many libraries as possible. Originally, OhioLINK was going to build their own discovery solution, but the magnitude and complexity of the task on an enterprise‐level scale delayed the project for some years, and ultimately resulted in a search for a commercial product. A key functional requirement was the ability for institutions to include their locally subscribed resources in the discovery layer. While some smaller institutions have very few journal and database resources outside of OhioLINK resources, many members had significant amounts of specialized and/or local resources that they wanted in their discovery layer. So OhioLINK’s concept changed from a centrally built and administered model to a model that would provide a local, customizable instance of a discovery layer for all participating institutions.

We put together a bid and review process with a task force of member librarians. We included representatives from early adopter libraries that had already implemented any of the major discovery layer products on the market. Based on the recommendation of the task force, OhioLINK awarded the contract to EBSCO EDS in the fall of 2012. OhioLINK staff handled the negotiation and terms and conditions of the contract, and also hired a dedicated implementation manager, Eliza Sproat, since this initiative involved implementation at speed and scale. Per the contract, in 2013 OhioLINK and EBSCO implemented 15 libraries every three months for a grand total of 60 libraries in one year. I want to emphasize that this was an “opt in” opportunity, not compulsory – we did, and do, have institutions that are using Summon and WorldCat Discovery Services, and we support integration of OhioLINK resources with all those products. But the vast majority of our institutions chose to implement EDS, and almost all of them implemented in that first year.

This list of participating institutions indicates the breadth of type and size of institutions that implemented EDS – ranging from two ARL libraries at Kent State and Ohio University, to several community and technical colleges, to smaller and specialized institutions like the Columbus College of Art and Design. In conjunction with the institutions that have chosen other discovery layers, this fall semester, almost all of Ohio’s incoming freshman will have a discovery layer as one of the tools in their learning toolbox.

I mentioned our statewide content silo problem – the formerly separate content silos include 50 million physical items in the Central Union Catalog that are requested and delivered from the member libraries, a statewide Electronic Theses and Dissertation Center with over 50,000 ETDs, 20 million articles from 10,000 journal titles in the Electronic Journal Center from the major academic publishers, the Electronic Book Center with over 100,000 shared ebooks, and over a hundred academic databases, as well as other content.

Students, especially incoming freshman, benefit from the “all in one search box” aspect of a discovery layer, and the discovery layer of course integrates book and article level searching which is a constant challenge for users in a Googlized universe.

The OhioLINK model of individual instances on each campus allows customization at the local level. This was particularly important with respect to the central catalog due to the size of the consortial holdings. For smaller institutions with limited book holdings, the central catalog swamped their results. As academic librarians know, “Is it in the building and can I get it right now” is relevant metadata for undergraduates. OhioLINK items are delivered within 2-3 business days, which is too long to wait in many instances. Therefore the inclusion of the Central Catalog is optional for every discovery layer. With the help of EBSCO we created two versions of the central catalog export, one that is “low relevancy” so that the bibliographic records are still in the discovery layer, but allows local catalog records to be promoted in searches over the OhioLINK items. We find that the “low relevancy” option is quite popular, as it prioritizes the “get it now” physical items while still including all that is available through the entire consortium.

I mentioned that INFOhio and OhioLINK collaborate on providing a common set of resources statewide, and the EBSCO databases are heavily used in both environments. OhioLINK librarians have long said that incoming freshman recognize and are comfortable using the EBSCO databases as an academic resource, because the same databases are taught and used in their public schools via INFOhio. This gives these students an advantage when they arrive on college campuses in the fall. Even those students navigating the library without the benefit of direct library help or instruction will use the EBSCO databases as a default resource, instead of relying on Google.

By providing a common discovery layer for P-20 education, INFOhio and OhioLINK are extending that familiar environment so that students can concentrate on getting and using academic material as quickly as possible. Our OhioLINK institutions are finding that undergraduates across the state are disaggregating their education – even at traditional residential institutions. These students are often taking classes from multiple institutions at once, and using their local academic library as a base for help and delivery of resources. A common discovery tool, and the underlying core of common resources, helps these students navigate between institutional environments relatively seamlessly without having to learn new and different silos and interfaces for each class – sometimes simultaneously. It also helps the adjunct faculty that are often teaching at multiple institutions, and it helps those librarians who are assisting students who may be requesting help for classes not held on their campus.

I want to emphasize that while our environment is EBSCO both for the “bridge” database operating from high school to college, and for the discovery layer service, it could be any common set of resources and tools statewide. However academic libraries and systems collaborate, a common academic library toolkit reduces the cognitive load of first year students, transfer students (especially those going from community college to a four year institutions), and even graduate students if they stay within the state. Instead of students of this or that institution, we are moving to a model where students and increasingly their adjunct instructors, are truly users of the state with a small “s” system of education.



“Many freshmen, who assumed everything they needed to know was just a Google search away, soon discovered they were unprepared to deal with the enormous amount of information they were expected to find and process for college research assignments… As a whole, many freshmen felt at a disadvantage from the start because of the limited research skills they brought with them.”

–2013 Project Information Literacy Report


The quote you see here is from Project Information Literacy (PIL), which is conducted in partnership with the University of Washington’s Information School.

Project Information Literacy is a national study of more than 13,000 college-aged students in the U.S. about their research habits in this digital age. This quote matches the comments we hear from our OhioLINK librarians when we ask them if they think college freshmen arrive ready to do college-level research.

Their answer is “no.”

But making students ready for college and career research is an important goal for INFOhio, and one of the major reasons INFOhio has developed ISearch. ISearch is what we’re calling the elementary and secondary school version of the EBSCOhost Discovery Service product that Gwen just discussed.

There are several reasons why we want a single search for our students.

  1. First, Ohio’s New Learning Standards focus on research. But in the current K-12 research environment, the vetted, reliable, age-appropriate information is enclosed in silos and much harder to find than the non-vetted, unreliable, inappropriate and possibly unsafe information available on the wild, wild web.  ISearch will make the research process more open, by letting students run one search across multiple collections.
  2. ISearch also matches the discovery systems that academic and public libraries have adopted. If we can get students used to using a discovery layer in K-12, then we can provide a seamless transition to the academic library for the college researchers or the public library for those entering the workforce.
  3. ISearch will also help educators find articles, videos, e-books, and — eventually – print books much easier than they do now. They will also be able to easily find articles written at different reading levels quickly, which helps them meet the instructional needs of their students regardless of where they start out.

We formed our Discovery Layer Task Force in January. INFOhio staff and school librarians served along with OHIOLINK librarians who already use EDS and who provided valuable first-hand knowledge.

The task force helped us narrow our audience. Although INFOhio serves PreK-12, we think EDS and therefore ISearch works best for students who can “read to learn,” which are 4th-12th graders. They are the students we’re targeting with this product.

We piloted with three districts last spring, spent the summer incorporating the results of that pilot, and today we are launching the product statewide.

As Gwen mentioned, INFOhio participates in Libraries Connect Ohio collaboration that licenses databases for the state. All but three of those resources will be available through ISearch.  The few not included don’t provide the indexing needed.  In addition, INFOhio provides an e-book collection and a video collection that support our education standards. ISearch includes both of those.

Over the next several months we will be working with INFOhio automated districts and private schools to incorporate their school library catalogs into the search. That means we’ll be developing about 600 customized interfaces using SirsiDynix’s Enterprise to deliver print items alongside the powerful discovery features unique to EDS.

Most academic libraries have opted to display results inline without tabs, but the INFOhio ISearch task force wanted tabs for 2 reasons:

  • Middle and high school students may not be able to differentiate between source types as easily as college students.
  • Ohio online assessments require students to navigate a tabbed environment, so we think the tabbed approach to this tool will be useful in preparing students for the tech skills they need for this testing.

We at INFOhio are excited to offer ISearch to help students make the transition to college and careers. I feel that between OHIOLINK and INFOhio, our students have support, wherever they are, to become well-informed digital learners. 

For more information on INFOhio, please see

For more information on OhioLINK, please see