During June and July 2020, HEE’s Resource Discovery team conducted a series of 10 ‘Before Action Review’ engagement sessions with Library Managers about the new National Discovery Service. Over 70 individuals from across the country participated in the workshops. This blogpost provides a short summary of what participants told us.
First, we asked what your users’ most common frustrations are when accessing trusted information. You told us that users find there are too many routes to information, compounded by a lack of time and skills required to sift through search results to find what they want. You also reported users’ frustrations with OpenAthens, particularly the multiple sign-ins users must use, along with expectations around access that fail to be met. One manger spoke for most, saying:
“Users do not want to go to 25 places. They want something that works. They do not want to be trained how to use all this – they want to sit down and get what they need.”
We asked what a National Discovery Service would look like to you, in an ideal world. What would it need to do?
Unsurprisingly, you told us that it needs to overcome the frustrations of the current user experience. The service needs to be “seamless”, offering users a consistent experience as they move across different organisations: users “should not have to start all over again” when they move between one job or placement and the next. You want a system with the semantic search functionality of Google but not one reproducing Google’s “information hose” – one that provides trusted information, along with features such as learning from user preferences, tailoring searches to users’ interests and doing away with multiple sign-ins.
We asked what lessons we could learn from your experience of managing or participating in successful projects elsewhere. You told us that managing the supplier relationship is crucial. Suppliers should provide timely and flexible project support and technical input. They must be held to account to ensure they deliver on their specifications. You also advised those leading the project to take steps to ensure that the beneficiaries of the project feel they are being consulted and kept informed.
We asked you to imagine the failure of the National Discovery Service, to get us thinking about how to avoid such an outcome. Two themes especially came back to us, loud and clear. First, the project will fail if we don’t take account of the particularities of local IT systems. The second theme was failure to gain library staff support for the project. To do this, you told us we need to generate enthusiasm about its benefits. Above all else, you told us that we need to reassure staff that the implementation of the National Discovery Service is not about cutting library staff roles or investment in library services. We can reassure you it isn’t – it is about freeing up library staff time for customer facing work and reducing time and money spent maintaining local systems.
Finally, we asked you what we needed to do next. You outlined a range of good project and communication principles we need to adopt. We need to ensure good project management support and supplier relationship management. We need transparent communications and regular updates, not just informing but engaging, and we need to make sure local teams are fully involved.
This is just a summary of the issues you raised during the engagement sessions. We have compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions to address the issues you raised during the sessions in more detail and will add to this as the procurement and implementation progresses. In the meantime, we still welcome any further comments or questions about National Discovery Service you still might have. Please send them through to us on:
By Franco Henwood, Library and Knowledge Services Project Manager