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Over the past several years, the importance of the library as a gateway for starting the research process had been steadily declining.  However, new research recently released by Ithaka S+R may indicate a change in this trend.

One of the key findings from the latest Ithaka S+R US Faculty Survey—the fifth fielded since 2000—speaks to the possible impact of discovery services on re-establishing the library as a starting place for research.  In the Executive Summary of the report Housewright, Schonfeld and Wulfson state, “The perceived decline in the role of the library catalog noted in previous cycles of this survey has been arrested and even modestly reversed, driven perhaps to some degree by significant strategic shifts in library discovery tools and services.”

The following figure from the report shows faculty reporting starting research at the library online catalog increased slightly in the 2012 cycle of the survey after a steady decline over the previous three surveys.  


In the 2012 survey the authors retained the language “library catalog” to be consistent with previous surveys.  When asked for clarification, Housewright said, “We recognize that asking just about use of the library catalog as opposed to other discovery tools made available via the library website is somewhat dated.  Today’s users may not meaningfully differentiate different tools made available through the library website.”  The authors plan to assess this distinction in future surveys and look forward to further investigating the causes for the change in this trend.

Research like this gives us confidence that the Summon discovery service is delivering on its mission to return researchers to the library.  By creating a built-to-purpose discovery engine expressly designed to meet the needs and expectations of today’s users, we’re keeping libraries from suffering further disintermediation from the research process and providing them with real opportunities to stem users’ preferences for starting research with open web search engines over library resources.  Not a replacement for native databases or research instruction, the Summon service provides a compelling starting place for research and offers librarians new opportunities to connect with users.

To read more about the survey or the full report, click here.

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22 May 2013 | Posted by Eddie Neuwirth

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