The continuing rise of search engines as a powerful discovery gateway has left many academic libraries concerned about losing grip on ‘discovery’. Timon Oefelein maps shows why quite the opposite is true


iscovery remains a hot topic. All over Europe librarians are eagerly discussing what implications the latest discovery trends might have on their library. And quite rightly so because it’s one of their core historic functions – to help patrons find and access the right content. But some argue that the Googles of this world have taken over. They argue that students and researchers use the library less and less as a starting point for information gathering. And perhaps there is some evidence for this.

The prestigious and long-running Ithaka S+R US Faculty Survey 2015, issued in April 2016, surveyed 9,000 faculty members from US academic universities about their views of the library’s core functions – gateway, archive, buyer, teaching support, research support, and undergraduate support.

One key takeaway was that only 58 per cent of faculty members from the sciences and medicine viewed the library’s ‘gateway’ function as ‘highly important’ – the overall number for all subject areas including humanities and social sciences was higher at 70 per cent, but still much lower than several other core functions. For example, 78 per cent of academics viewed the ‘undergraduate support function’ as highly important. Further, the library’s role as ‘buyer’ scored even higher at around 83 per cent. Is it true, then? Are the Googles of this world starting to take over the ‘gateway’ function from libraries?

At first glance the global external referral statistics from the last few years that we see at Springer Link back up the report’s basic findings. Around half of the visits to the SpringerLink platform came from search engines, in the order of Google, GoogleScholar, Bing, Yahoo. Another one fifth was from abstracting services, repositories, as well as library sources, including OPACS and discovery services. (Source: Springer Nature Strategy and Market Intelligence)

26 Research Information JUNE/JULY 2016

Dark traffic Further, one fifth of traffic was not directly identifiable – also known as ‘dark traffic’. We suspect that most of this group comprises visits from web links in email alerting services, bookmarks and standard emails, as well as web search traffic from secure https mode and direct visits to our website. Interestingly, just under one per cent of all visits come from social media, with Facebook and Twitter leading the pack, followed by Wikipedia, Reddit, LinkedIn, and ResearchGate. The traffic from social media has remained stable for the last four years with no significant change in volume.

The basic external referral picture remains similar at the institutional level. I have looked at the referral trends at over 50 medium-large academic universities throughout north western Europe in the last four years and seen no major diversions from the global picture. The variations are insignificant.

It comes as no surprise, then, that some universities are making adjustments to their discovery set up. Utrecht University took the lead back in 2013 by taking offline one of the library’s main search boxes with little complaint from users.

‘Librarians can

significantly influence the user’s experience’

And yet, the delivery of content arguably has a significant effect on the true discovery of content. After all, nearly a quarter of all visits are from ‘dark traffic’ which is linked to delivery format and technology.

The Netherlands continues to lead the way with the UKB consortia coordinating the country’s transition to a unified information infrastructure, namely the OCLC World Share


global holdings network. The question is, do these trends mark the beginning of the end of an era of home-grown library discovery technology and local OPAC infrastructure? Certainly, the librarian’s role in


platform. Part of this project involves moving the holdings information of most Dutch Universities to the cloud-based World Share platform which will in turn optimise back- office processes. The move will also allow the participating librarians to

benefit from

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