Monday, March 30, 2015

The Meaning of Openness. Real Openness.

Michal (Michelle) Gindi, Director of Publisher Relations, Ex Libris

The emergence of discovery systems, which enabled library patrons to move from federated search methodologies to a unified, index-based search, has changed the nature of library searching. With this shift, libraries can now offer patrons a comprehensive, user-friendly discovery experience.

But how comprehensive is “comprehensive” when not all data is accessible? The question of whether content providers should deliver their content through discovery systems from other vendors has been raised many times. However, the real question we should all be asking ourselves, especially following the publication of NISO’s ODI guidelines, is why shouldn’t vendors make their data accessible to patrons through discovery systems. The role of discovery services is to facilitate access to content, and nothing more.

In this post, I’d like to make the case for collaboration and true openness among stakeholders in the discovery arena, to better serve the scholarly community. There are four main stakeholders:
  • The providers—publishers and content aggregators—that generate and supply the content
  • The libraries that purchase or license the content
  • The discovery system providers
  • The users
Libraries spend heavily on the acquisition of content from content providers. To maximize the impact of these investments and best serve their patrons, libraries must have freedom of choice—that is, they must be able to choose which content to purchase, whom to purchase it from, and which system or platform their patrons will use to discover said content. When content providers exclude their content from all—or some—discovery systems, libraries lose their freedom of choice. And if a content provider and discovery provider are one and the same, a clear conflict of interest arises; instead of benefiting from the dissemination of content, libraries are drawn into the exclusivity game.

The withholding of content from discovery systems (or from specific discovery systems) by content providers is not a widespread phenomenon. The vast majority of content providers, mostly full-text providers but also some abstracting and indexing (A&I) providers, collaborate with all discovery services in an honest effort to serve their customer base. However, a small number of publishers and aggregators still refuse to collaborate with all, or some, discovery providers.

Exclusivity and the withholding of content are not in the interest of libraries, scholarly consumers of information, or authors who publish their research. What is the benefit of an article that is published but rarely or never accessed? The fact of the matter is that most patrons today access their library’s purchased or licensed content through a discovery service. Withholding content from discovery systems directly decreases the usage of such content, the number of its citations, and thus also its impact factor. A&I providers that do not contribute to discovery services exclude large groups of users, especially undergraduates, who expect to have all content available in one place (as it is when they search in Google). Such groups of users tend not to use multiple platforms when searching.

Bottom line? By not making content discoverable, publishers devalue their own content and render it a target for cancellation by libraries. True openness means serving the scholarly community by making sure that all relevant and subscribed scholarly content is as widely exposed as possible in all discovery services.


  1. At the end of the day, it's libraries that are losing out. I just wish ExLibris and EBSCO could come to some agreement - compromised or not - which will be for the benefit of all libraries who subscribe to ExLibris and EBSCO products. I personally don't see EBSCO as the baddies in this stand-off - and nor do I see ExLibris in that role either. However, airing this disagreement in public does nothing to help libraries. Absolutely nothing. We're the meat in the sandwich. So please just get back to the negotiation table and thrash out an agreement amongst yourselves - in private. Stop airing this crap in public. Further, I understand that ExLibris HAVE made an offer to ExLibris to share their data with you - but that they want something in return? Something that looks like a reasonable request to make. Is this true?

  2. Why is ExLibris arguing about this in public? Why don't you get back to the negotiation table with EBSCO and resolve this issue? It's libraries that are losing out big time - not so much ExLibris or EBSCO. We spend millions each year on your products so the least you can do is to come to some civilised (possibly compromised) agreement. These bullish blog posts help no one. So please stop this silly posturing; stop behaving like children by pointing the finger; and stop stop stop! It's utterly stupid, crass and completely unproductive to argue like this in public. Besides, as I understand it from EBSCO, they have offered a solution to ExLibris - and you have flatly refused to accept it. I'll say it again: it's libraries - your customers - who are losing out. So sort out this issue once and for all - and stop posting unproductive, finger-pointing blog posts like this. This issue has been dragging on for years. ExLibris can do better than this. Start leading - not posturing.

  3. I am thankful for this statement but would like to remark that real or radical openness has some more preconditions. If you talk about real openness I would like to propose to talk about open bibliographic data ( instead of discovery systems for example.