Monday, October 31, 2016

Making Content Neutrality a Key Factor: 12 Questions to Ask Your Discovery Vendor

Eddie Neuwirth, Director of Product Management - Discovery Services, Ex Libris

Every library is unique in some way, so it is logical that libraries need to take different approaches to evaluating which discovery service might be right for them.

There have been a significant number of published papers and conference presentations in recent years about how to evaluate, select, and choose a discovery service. Included within this vast repository of information are pieces that focus on particular aspects of this selection process – including cost, relevance ranking, service administration, customization options, content coverage, usability, APIs, mobile interfaces, library management system integration, linking options and more. Quite often, though, the most obvious outcome that libraries want from a discovery service – to ensure that all library collections, especially currently underutilized collections, are discovered equally – takes a backseat as a deciding factor in favor of a more feature-oriented approach.

This is where the concept of content neutrality comes into play. In our recent blog posts on content neutrality we pointed out some of the dangers of ignoring content neutrality in discovery, including promoting bias by favoring one content vendor over another, a bias that has potential consequences on both equal discovery and research integrity.

Compelling vendors to adhere to content neutrality principles through UX and UI design will enhance the discovery of library content and improve research outcomes. Failing to factor in content neutrality in the library’s discovery service choice will likely mean falling short of the library’s goals for choosing a discovery service in the first place.
To address this issue requires that libraries ask vendors how they support content neutrality through their systems as well as closely evaluating discovery systems for bias. Here are some sample questions that libraries can include in their evaluation criteria:
  • How does the system protect a content-neutral approach?
  • Are records handled in a way that does not filter out data? 
  • Does the handling of duplicate items systematically favor one content provider over another?
  • Does the relevancy-ranking approach weight items disproportionately? 
  • Does the discovery provider enrich the metadata of some content provider records, but not others, influencing the discovery of those records? 
  • Are all content providers treated equally in the display of results? 
  • How do the user interface and experience maintain a provider-agnostic approach? 
  • Are there any aspects of the interface that bias the user, or foster future bias? 
  • Is the delivery of data influenced by any factors that the vendor controls? 
  • Does the vendor do anything from a technical standpoint that overtly favors the vendor’s own content? 
  • If the return of results seems to bias results in favor of the vendor’s own content, is that circumstantial or deliberate? 
  • If there are elements such as URLs, return of results, platform elements, results display and interface design that seem to favor a vendor’s own content, is that incidental or intentional? 

Libraries, librarians, and patrons will benefit from scrutinizing the neutrality of discovery systems with these types of questions.

Publishers also have a vested interest in ensuring that they are working with content neutral discovery partners. The library-publisher-discovery service relationship will be the focus of an upcoming 2016 Charleston Conference panel I will participate in entitled “The Whole Discovery Enchilada: How Close Are We to the Goal.”   Until all of a library’s subscribed online content is equally and reliably discoverable through a library’s discovery service, this topic should continue to be at the forefront of how libraries evaluate discovery services.

We invite you to read our Guide to Evaluating Content Neutrality in Discovery Systems to better understand content neutrality, the principles for evaluating discovery systems, and questions librarians can ask of vendors about their own discovery services.

This blog post is the last in a 3-part series on content neutrality. To view the previous posts in this series, click here.

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