Teaching with Discovery

Several Ohio libraries have been using web-scale discovery services, such as Serials Solutions’ Summon, WorldCat Local, or EBSCO Discovery Service for several years. In January of 2013, 58 OhioLINK member libraries started implementing EBSCO Discovery Service. Many of us have moved past the implementation phase and are developing promising or best practices for teaching discovery. The shift from implementation to practice is also reflected in the literature on this topic.

Two recent articles have started to address promising and best practices for teaching with a discovery service. Promising practices are those that have potential to be generalizable and effective in the long term, whereas best practices are those that have been proven to be generalizable and effective in the long term. 1

Nancy Fawley and Nikki Krysak developed the following six best practices based upon general research related to discovery services, usability studies of discovery services, and the literature on digital natives and their information seeking behavior:

  1. Focus on developing search terms
  2. Teach limiters or facets
  3. Emphasize critical thinking
  4. Use the discovery tool as a scaffold for subject-specific databases
  5. Develop supplemental subject guides
  6. Emphasize interlibrary loan2

Stephanie Buck and Christina Steffy developed the following seven promising practices based on the literature, a survey of teaching librarians, and interviews with academic librarians who teach discovery services regularly:

  1. Determine the relevancy of the tool to your class
  2. Develop a strategy for introducing the tool
  3. Engage students in active learning
  4. Manage information overload
  5. Use instructional materials that support student learning (not just busy work)
  6. Emphasize the transferability of search skills
  7. Share successful instructional practices and experiences3

You may find yourself nodding your head in agreement with these best and promising practices. Buck and Steffy admit their “list of promising practices…are, in fact, not significantly different from good pedagogical practices used to teach any subject database, catalog, or web search tool.”4 Teaching with a discovery service enables librarians to focus more time on teaching higher order skills that are transferable to other research resources. For example, teaching students how to think critically about a discovery service result list might include a discussion about content type and source quality. This discussion also applies to a Google search that turns up blogs, research articles and commercial sites.

Some argue that discovery services “dumb-down” search functionality because they offer fewer pre-search limiters, and I agree this is a trade-off; subject-specific databases and catalogs do offer more options and control over search functionality that help users narrow result lists. Discovery services are not a replacement for these trusted research resources.

I like to think of discovery services as a gateway to more sophisticated library research. Our millennial students are more familiar with a search experience that utilizes a simple keyword search, yields millions of hits, mixes content types, and relies on post-search limiting – just like Google, Amazon, and Zappos. Discovery services more closely approximate this approach to searching. If we can draw in new library users with a discovery service, we can build trust and confidence in library research resources while teaching users to evaluate sources. Once users develop more sophisticated research needs, they may be more motivated to learn specialized databases and complex search strategies. By offering tools with different levels of search complexity, we can match the tools we recommend to the search sophistication of the class or individual.


1Buck, Stefanie, and Christina Steffy, “Promising Practices in Instruction of Discovery Tools,” Communications in Information Literacy 7, no. 1 (Mar. 2013): 67.

2Fawley, Nancy, and Nikki Krysak, “Information Literacy Opportunities within the Discovery Tool Environment,” College & Undergraduate Libraries 19, no. 2-4 (Apr. 2012): 211-213.

3Buck and Steffy, “Promising Practices,” 77-78.

4Ibid., 78.


Kristen Peters
Reference and Instruction Librarian, Wittenberg University

This entry was posted in Cool Tools, Featured Blogger, Information Literacy, One Shots. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Teaching with Discovery

  1. ontheflybrarian says:

    I appreciate the list of best practices in that, along with the forthcoming ACRL Framework for Information Literacy, it will inform my revision of OWU’s Library Basics LibGuide. I’m going through the six items and matching them with their appropriate Threshold Concept. Hopefully, this exercise will help me translate the very jargon-heavy Threshold Concepts into a more student-friendly framework. I think comparing discovery layer results to Google will be very helpful in the classroom when I’m demonstrating how “library skills” are relevant to so much more than just research assignments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.