EBSCO Opens Metadata to Third-Party Discovery Services

In a move that will enhance the functionality of discovery services available through its partners and competitors alike, EBSCO Information Services last month announced a new policy on metadata sharing that will make all metadata for 129 of its full-text databases, more than 550,000 ebooks and more than 70 historical digital archives available to third-party discovery services. The policy also outlines a commitment to provide assistance with linking technology that has been requested by customers. Previously, the company had required third-party discovery services, such as OCLC's WorldCat or Ex Libris's Primo Discovery and Delivery, to use an EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) API in order to search EBSCO content.

EBSCO Information Services logoIn a move that will enhance the functionality of discovery services available through its partners and competitors alike, EBSCO Information Services in April announced a new policy on metadata sharing that will make all metadata for 129 of its full-text databases, more than 550,000 ebooks and more than 70 historical digital archives available to third-party discovery services. The policy also outlines a commitment to provide assistance with linking technology that has been requested by customers.

Previously, the company had required third-party discovery services, such as OCLC’s WorldCat or Ex Libris‘ Primo Discovery and Delivery, to use an EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) API (application programming interface) in order to search EBSCO content. Sam Brooks, executive vice president for EBSCO Information Services, told LJ that the decision to change this stance was a difficult choice for the company but ultimately, they “hope that this compromise [will] result in our being able to establish new partnerships that [will] benefit us, our partners, and our customers. So, the most challenging thing for us was to drop that requirement while also deciding to offer as much as we did: every full-text database that is purchased primarily for its full text, every ebook, and every full-text historical digital archive, as well as linking technology assistance.”

As Brooks noted, EBSCO will be providing full-text searchability where its existing licenses allow, and the company is already working to bring more publishers on board with the new policy.

“Many of the publishers in our full-text databases are not currently providing their full text to these other discovery vendors, so in some cases it will take some time to explain the benefits to them,” Brooks said. “We have been and will continue to explain that these other services typically rely heavily on full-text searching, so providing the full text (for search, not display) has obvious benefits for greater exposure. It’s a much easier conversation than if we were trying to convince subject index providers to send their subject indexing.”

Fair links

EBSCO’s approach is also aligned with the National Information Standards Organization’s (NISO) Open Discovery Initiative (ODI) guidelines for fair linking, Brooks said, and EBSCO plans to make its linking defaults more transparent going forward.

Brooks added that EDS linking defaults were never set up to favor EBSCO content over content from other providers—or to favor content from any publisher over content from any other publisher. But the company hopes that conforming to ODI recommendations and making these defaults public will eliminate any concerns regarding bias.

“We have always let customers choose how to link—to which resources and in which order,” Brooks said. “Using the ODI documentation as impetus for improvement, we are looking more closely at how we manage all of this—from our setups, to potential defaults, etc. We will be publishing information on all defaults, so libraries and content providers can see them clearly.”

Subject indexes restricted

The new metadata policy does not include abstract and indexing (A&I) databases, such as PsycINFO, CAB Abstracts, or other EBSCOhost A&I resources. As ODI noted in its “Promoting Transparency in Discovery” draft document released for public comment last fall, many A&I database providers place restrictions on how their content can be indexed in discovery services.

ODI plans to revisit this issue, and EBSCO’s new policy states that “as approaches for discovery service development around A&I resources are more thoroughly documented…and subsequently addressed, EBSCO will revisit its policy for sharing these unique databases with other discovery service vendors.” For now, EBSCO’s licensing arrangements do not permit the company to provide metadata from most of these A&I resources to third-party discovery services.

“Any such licenses would need to exist directly between subject index providers and [other] discovery vendors,” Brooks said.

Ongoing partnerships

The new policy contains a passage that clarifies some of the unique attributes of A&I resources. It says, “A&I resources are developed with specialized components and remain our industry’s most sophisticated data sets, but as such, require intricate, refined search algorithms and approaches to properly leverage their value. At present, not all discovery services are designed to leverage the specialized components of these individual collections, and as a result, are likely to inadvertently de-value and subsequently harm library research were these to be included without proper guidelines.”

EBSCO’s rights to these data sets, as well as EDS’s facility for surfacing these resources, have led almost two dozen integrated library system (ILS) vendors, including SirsiDynix, OCLC, Innovative Interfaces Inc., and Kuali OLE, to develop partnerships involving EDS, even when those vendors offer discovery solutions of their own. Notably, Innovative and EBSCO last June announced an expanded strategic partnership that involved the integration of EDS with Innovative’s Encore discovery platform, creating a combined discovery solution initially called “Encore with EBSCO Discovery Service.” The company has begun marketing the solution as Encore Duet.

In light of that relationship, Innovative’s senior vice president of global marketing Gene Shimshock speculated on EBSCO’s new policy.

“Their position is that they’re trying to work with as many folks as possible, and I think they feel that there’s a certain formula that works, where their strengths and our strengths, or other vendors’ strengths, are maximized,” Shimshock said. “We’ve been working with them for quite a while on this…. From day one, we have always said that [Encore Duet] is a best of both worlds approach. What EBSCO does with journals, with metadata, full-text indexing, it’s pretty sophisticated stuff. Likewise, I could say that about what we do on the bibliographic side. The fact that you have two companies with deep expertise in these two areas coming together, I think it’s a good partnership.”

Sara Zimmerman, executive director of the Louisiana Library Network (LOUIS), which uses EDS and the Symphony ILS, praised EBSCO’s integration efforts with SirsiDynix as well.

“The discovery piece from EBSCO worked better for us than the discovery piece from SirsiDynix,” she said. “Both of these companies partnering together…and we pushed them to do this. It has been tremendous for what we can do in Louisiana.”

Brooks told LJ that he does not foresee the company’s new open metadata policy affecting these integration efforts or vendor partnerships. The open policy will, however, enhance access to EBSCO metadata for non partner vendors such as Ex Libris, which last May had a dispute with EBSCO over data sharing when the Orbis Cascade Alliance (OCA) Board of Directors criticized Ex Libris and EBSCO for failing to reach an information sharing agreement. OCA is rolling out Ex Libris’ library services platform Alma, with Ex Libris Primo as its preferred discovery layer, using the Primo Central Index.

John Helmer, executive director and CEO of  OCA, told LJ that EBSCO had given alliance members, along with a few other organizations, a preview of the new policy prior to the official announcement on April 18.

“It is complex and we will not know the full implications until we have had more time to analyze the policy,” Helmer said. “Clearly it is good to see that EBSCO has put some hard work into the issue and the dialog is advancing.”

Brooks explained that while EBSCO is still hoping for a resolution that would give the Ex Libris customers the option to use the EDS API with Primo, the new metadata policy gives OCA access to “a huge amount of our metadata” via Primo Central, “going from contributing zero databases to 129 databases, from zero ebooks to all of our 550,000-plus ebooks, and from zero full-text historical archives to all 70-plus of our full-text historical archives. So, an arrangement [between Ex Libris and EBSCO] would greatly benefit customers like Orbis Cascade [that] have EBSCO databases, ebooks, and archives and want them to work in Primo Central, as well as customers [that] have an Ex Libris ILS that have chosen EDS as their discovery service.”

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