The future of FirstSearch and WorldCat Discovery

Mike Showalter

2016-03-24 Showalter discovery

Member-driven product development

A little more than two years ago, OCLC introduced WorldCat Discovery. The goal was to combine the “best of both worlds” into one discovery service—to deliver a single service that would deliver full discovery of library collections and enable library staff and library users to continue searching the one-of-a-kind WorldCat database.

It was a good plan, and reflected a lot of input from our members at a variety of levels. One of the things that makes OCLC very different is our commitment to member involvement. Not just in terms of tactical, feature-focused feedback, but overall direction and strategy.

Like any plan, however, you often find out more in the execution than you do in the initial development stages.

What we discovered about discovery

Our goal didn’t change: to provide a great library search experience for both professionals (librarians, academics and researchers), undergraduate students and the general public. What changed was our understanding of how and where those two groups interact with library information, particularly WorldCat data. While searching the WorldCat database itself is a priority for many librarians, searching across lots of content (the central index available with WorldCat Discovery) was more important for end-users.

As a vital research resource for libraries, WorldCat is uniquely qualified to fulfill those two very different functions depending on the goal of who’s using it:

  • Wide-ranging searches of a variety of library sources and media types
  • Specific location of a known resource among billions of items

That’s what we discovered about discovery. WorldCat is the same destination and provides great value for both kinds of searchers… but the experience is different enough to warrant two options for how people get to success.

One WorldCat, two discovery options

Our members made it clear, as we worked on developing WorldCat Discovery, that they valued the unique capabilities of FirstSearch. Based on that feedback, we’re going to continue to provide a new version of FirstSearch, separate from WorldCat Discovery. How will these differ?

  • FirstSearch. Power searching of the WorldCat and Base Package databases. Defaults to advanced search with an “unclustered” view of editions and formats.
  • WorldCat Discovery. Single-search-box discovery of WorldCat, a central index of 2,300+ e-content collections and 200 million+ article records in WorldCat.org. Defaults to single search with “clustered” editions and formats in the results.

More information about key features of each service is available here in this FAQ.

Both FirstSearch and WorldCat Discovery will be accessed through a common technology infrastructure with a mobile-ready, modern interface. Access to the current version of FirstSearch will continue into at least 2017. Our plan to replace WorldCat Local with WorldCat Discovery has not changed. We are accelerating our work to add key WorldCat Local features to WorldCat Discovery

Cooperation works

In today’s complex information environment, all plans need to be flexible. Software, in particular, is never “done” anymore, is it? We don’t buy and replace CD-ROMs every year or so. We continuously observe, evaluate and upgrade. At OCLC we are very lucky in that our customers are also our leaders. You, our members, evaluate your services not just in terms of features, but also with the good of the entire community at heart.

In this case, your feedback was clear—while a single discovery interface provides simplification benefits in some areas, it does not outweigh the value of two different services that more directly match the workflows for two different contingents of library users.

I can’t promise that this plan—or any plan—won’t change over time. The environment changes, technology changes, library users’ needs change. And our plans should reflect that. I can promise, though, that at OCLC our process for managing change will always involve an active interchange with you, our members and member leaders, about how to best meet your needs.