Integrating e-books and searches

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Over recent months there have been several big announcements from EBSCO, including the purchase of e-book aggregator NetLibrary from OCLC and the launch of EBSCO Discovery Service. We asked Tim Collins, president and general manager of EBSCO Publishing, to tell us more about the company's plans

Why did you buy NetLibrary?

Primarily, we see NetLibrary as a growth opportunity for our business. We feel that we can expand the user experience if people can also search e-books on our EBSCOhost platform and customers have asked us to get into this area.

NetLibrary customers have been very supportive in their feedback about the integration with EBSCOhost. We will continue to offer the same kind of access as customers are used to, but we are also working with publishers to offer different business models. We also have an ongoing relationship with OCLC and we will continue to work with OCLC with its dark archive.

Now, we have to build the technology to support NetLibrary on EBSCOhost and we are looking at different ways to enhance the resources. It is still early days, so the biggest challenge is prioritising what to do and when. NetLibrary already had some projects in progress and we will carry on with these. As with anything, it’s a question of time and money but we have a good team.

E-books are different from the type of content we’ve served before now but they are more similar than different and we serve the same customers. There are slight technology challenges but we’re a big organisation so we are used to addressing this. We receive many different formats already from different publishers into EBSCOhost, for example. The good news is that we have a very strong development team and we use much of the same technology and programming languages.

We see a lot of opportunity to grow the business. EBSCOhost is very strong in medical markets, so there is an opportunity to offer more e-books into this sector.

Our vision is to work towards a system where a user could search the full texts of the e-books that their library subscribes to. We don’t offer this yet but there is no reason why we couldn’t do it in the future and that would be a real strength.

Why did you launch a discovery tool?

Many customers asked us to do this too. They like the EBSCOhost interface, they find the customer support good and using the same interface means that they don’t have to retrain their users. We provide lots of information on EBSCOhost so it is not a big leap to do this and we see it as a growth opportunity.

The big advantage for users is probably the familiarity of interfaces. If you have EBSCOhost then it’s one of the most-used services in the library. We offer customisation so that customers can tweak the interface to their own users, which is important because every institution has its own unique user base.

We also have relationships with publishers, of both databases and journals, which helps in creating this resource. We are in the process of building e-books into the discovery service too. I don’t think anyone has really done this effectively yet.

How is it used in searching?

The key advantage of a discovery service over federated searching is that the metadata is loaded locally so searches are faster. We have also built in a way to integrate federated search with the service. Not all information providers are going to work with our discovery service, especially our competitors, so this helps users to search their resources too.

With EBSCOhost we have databases that serve primary schools, universities and corporations. To me, the vision of the discovery service is something that can serve all these different users. The first screen is very simple but users can filter the results a lot too. Each database has unique fields so some specialist searches will still need to go to individual databases.

Multiple result deduping is a key challenge with discovery services and any secondary database but we think we’ve come up with a pretty good system.

What are the challenges of the current market?

This is an exciting time for EBSCO Publishing. We have a lot of people working on EBSCO host right now and we’ll continue to invest in it. It’s undeniable that library budgets are being cut but we want to support libraries. A discovery service helps promote the use of other resources in libraries. We’re being cost-conscious but trying very hard to make good decisions and develop our business. As a private company we can afford to take a long-term view.

Interview by Siân Harris