About Aspen Discovery

Accessibility - Aspen Discovery and Aspen LiDA

Aspen Discovery and Aspen LiDA's goal is to comply with level 2.1 AA standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). While accessibility guidelines are meant to ensure equal access to online content, these standards actually benefit all users regardless of ability. Here are some of the ways Aspen Discovery has included accessibility in its design and features, along with some things to consider when trying to make your catalog more accessible to users.

  • Aspen has accessibility baked into much of its code, meaning with the default settings users are simply unable to make choices that could impact accessibility.
  • Aspen uses ARIA attribute tags in its HTML code. ARIA stands for Accessible Rich Internet Applications, and the tags are used to help bridge the gap between standard HTML and browsers, AT (Assistive Technology – screen readers, magnifiers, text-to-speech, etc), JavaScript toolkits, and other applications.
  • Our developers are also part of groups such as International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) and the User Experience Professional Association (UXPA) to stay up-to-date about trends in accessibility.
  • Aspen Discovery is currently compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA.
  • Aspen Discovery is releasing new features on a regular basis, and should a feature be found not to be in compliance, Aspen Discovery will consider a fix to be a critical issue to resolve.
  • Since the majority of Aspen’s interface colors are customizable in these settings, we have included a Contrast Ratio column that serves as a tool to ensure high-contrast combinations for background colors and text. The higher the number in this column, the higher the contrast, and the more readable the text will be. If you select a low-contrast combination – for example, black text on a dark blue background – the contrast ratio will show a low number. If you try to save the theme settings with these color selections, Aspen will display an error message and will revert back to the previous color selections, so it’s not even possible to create an inaccessible color scheme by accident! Libraries can control the minimum contrast level allowed in Layout settings.The default minimum ratio is 4.5.
  • Wherever staff can upload images into Aspen, we try to provide places to enter in alt-text. Alt text is the text that appears instead of the image if the image fails to load on a user’s screen, but this is also used by screen-reading tools to describe images to users.
  • Another way Aspen strives to achieve greater accessibility is through keyboard navigation. This allows users to hit the Tab key to move through interactive elements of the interface in a logical order, typically from left to right and top to bottom. To test this out, try hitting the Tab key on any page within Aspen to see the tab order. Once an element is selected, usually hitting the Enter key is the equivalent of a mouse click.
What is Discovery?


At their core, Discovery systems will connect your patrons to the resources that your library provides. Every ILS provides a way to search your library catalog, isn’t that enough?

With trends in technology quickly evolving library patrons expect much more from the websites that they interact with:

  • They are used to Googling content and finding the information they expect on the first page.
  • They are used to shopping sites like Amazon where they can find the products they want regardless of whether or not they are supplied by Amazon or a third party provider.
  • They are used to sites like Netflix providing suggestions of what to watch based on their ratings and past activity.
  • They expect a site to be easy to use and to work well on all of their devices.

The catalog search that comes bundled with an ILS is meant to support library staff first and foremost. In most cases, library staff and patrons have very different goals and needs. Good Discovery systems recognize these differences and work to make sure that the needs of our patrons are met first.

Let’s think about some of the patron expectations that we outlined prior. The first expectation for patrons is that the most relevant content appears first within search results. A traditional ILS (and many Discovery systems) will push content that was added to the catalog most recently to the top of the search results. This leads to searches for 'Harry Potter' returning movie tie ins, cookbooks, foreign language materials, and other content before returning the books or movies in the core series.

With Aspen Discovery, we feel this is a major usability issue for patrons. After all, patrons can easily assume that if the library doesn’t even have Harry Potter, they probably don’t have other books and movies that they want to read. We’ve worked hard to ensure that Aspen returns materials correctly based on the searches that patrons are doing.

While it is important for staff to view each edition and format of a title independently within search results, most patrons want to know all the different formats that are available to them without needing to scroll through pages and pages of results.

Some of our libraries have extensive video game collections so it’s important to make sure that all of the different versions are grouped together so patrons don’t have to scroll through pages of results to determine whether or not the library has a copy of the game for their chosen console.

Patrons also expect to be able to learn about all of the resources that a library gives them access to without having to look at multiple sites. At many libraries, a patron may have to search:

  • The catalog to find books and movies the library loans
  • OverDrive for eBooks, eAudiobooks, Magazines
  • Hoopla for eComics, eBooks, eAudiobooks, Movies
  • Kanopy for more movies
  • An events site to find information about events provided by the library
  • The library site to find information about the library itself
  • The library site (or external sites) for online resources such as Consumer Reports, Linked In Learning, Gale Databases, EBSCO articles, etc.
  • External sites to find obituaries, local history information, and digitized materials.

The list of locations a patron might have to search to find what they want goes on and on. With the number of possible search locations, most patrons won’t know about many resources that are provided unless they ask a staff member or do a lot of in depth research on their own. We hear from libraries all the time that they have expensive resources that they subscribe to that they are mostly unused because they are too hard to find.

With Aspen Discovery we have a core goal of making these materials easy for patrons to find no matter what system they are hosted in. There are several different avenues we have to include resources. We integrate with major eBook vendors to include eBooks, eAudiobooks, Magazines, Movies, eComics, etc. directly within catalog search results and allow patrons to check them in and out directly within Aspen Discovery to decrease access barriers for patrons. If a vendor does not allow direct integration, we can easily load MARC records or provide links to their sites to ensure that patrons know about the content. 

Suggestions are also very important to patrons. Because library catalogs generally contain hundreds of thousands or even millions of titles, patrons need help to determine what they will find most interesting. Using techniques similar to sites like Netflix and Amazon, Aspen offers several methods of recommending information to patrons. The homepage can be completely customized to display searches and lists based on the season, titles that are new to the library, personalized recommendations for patrons, and more.

Some of our libraries have seen 150-200% increases in number of holds since implementing Aspen Discovery and recommending titles to patrons so we know that recommendations really work!

Some of the other ways that Aspen can recommend titles to patrons include:

  • Personalized recommendations based on titles a patron has rated
  • While You Wait suggestions that recommend available titles when patrons place holds
  • Placards for similar title suggestions generated by library staff
  • Curated lists of read alikes

Finally, patrons expect Discovery Systems to be easy to use and to work well on all devices. Aspen is fully responsive so it works on any device that a patron has. We’ve also done numerous usability tests to ensure that patrons can easily navigate the site and interact with library resources.

Providing a great Discovery experience to your patrons is an important step in making your resources more accessible to patrons, increasing their understanding of the full breadth of your offerings, and maximizing their engagement with the library.

Why are so many libraries choosing discovery layers? Isn’t my ILS enough?

A library ILS does many wonderful things from cataloging to invoicing and from organizing patron account information to managing holds. A library ILS was the mainstay for decades, radically transforming the physical card catalog and increasing access for patrons. As library services have rapidly expanded, library catalogs and websites have become much more complex.

Libraries are now circulating so much more than physical books. You might have a handful to dozens of vendors offering things like e-books, magazines, research databases, streaming video, and online classes. Your library might be checking out items like laptops, seeds, games, bike locks, and hot spots. On top of the circulating items, libraries typically offer dozens of events, clubs, and special programs each month. With libraries offering so much, our technologies have had to adapt in order to help patrons discover these resources.

How can Aspen help our patrons discover our databases?

We know that you library is so much more than books! You probably subscribe to at least half a dozen databases that have valuable information for your patrons to access. Aspen is flexible enough for each library to decide which databases your library would like to feature.

Aspen automatically is designed to have a Resources page that easily displays all of your electronic databases. Most libraries also take advantage of Aspen's Placards to highlight library resources based on keyword. For example, a library that subscribes to Mango Languages (or other language database) can set the keyword(s) "language", "French", "learn a language", "Spanish", etc. to display a Placard, or advertisement, at the top of the page to promote Mango Languages. These Placards can be created with whatever images and text a library wishes to create!

If you subscribe to EBSCO Discovery (EDS) or EBSCOhost, Aspen will automatically pull in results over to your system like any other e-content provider with an API. search results will show up in the “Explore More” section of the search results.

Another way to access additional resources from databases, archives, and genealogy records is through the various drop down options in the search bar.

How does Aspen highlight archives and other special collections?

Explore More

One way Aspen incorporates archives and other special collections is through the Explore More section of catalog results. This usually displays under the first few results in a query. In the search below, I searched for a historical figure in the town. The search brings up historical photos and other archive results. Explore More might also display lists, library events, and other external sites.

Website Indexing

To pull in external website items into Explore More and your search results, you can set up Website Indexing for various sites. Aspen will comb through the external website(s) and pull in results that match your search.

Website Builder

Our partners have created informative and beautiful web pages on local history as well as events in regard to their local history. You can see here that Uintah County Library has a menu in Aspen that links to external sites as well as internal Aspen sites they've created using Website Builder. Learn More about Web Builder.

How does Aspen integrate with our existing ILS and e-content providers?

Unlike traditional proprietary vendors, with open source, we are able to connect to a wide variety of resources to tailor your discovery layer to what fits your individual library's needs! We use APIs to connect to you ILS, so if you don't see it on the list, don't worry, we most likely are able to connect to it! Currently, we have partners on the following ILS:

  • CARL.X
  • Evergreen
  • Evolve
  • Horizon
  • Koha
  • Polaris
  • Sierra
  • Symphony

Similarly, we connect to a variety of e-content providers through APIs. Here are a few of the most popular ones our partners use:

  • Boundless
  • Cloud Library
  • Hoopla
  • Libby
  • Palace Project

Read more about Integrations here.

How does Aspen know how to sort results? Will our patrons and staff be able to find what they need?

One of the most important aspects of a library catalog is putting materials that patrons want in front of them faster. Aspen does this through things we've come to expect from online searching like suggested spelling and predictive text; and in ways we might not consider like it's code.

Relevancy in Aspen depends on boosting scores. There are many factors that are included in the relevancy of a particular title for a patrons search. It is based on a combination of settings and built in code that has been in development for over ten years. For example, boosting scores are based on parameters like the number of copies your library may have and the amount of circulation of an item. These scores help bring the most relevant items to the top of your search.

Click for an enlarged example of a search for "Patterson" on another discovery layer (left) versus Aspen Discovery (right) to see the difference first hand. In the catalog search on the left, James Patterson doesn't appear until the 3rd page of results. In Aspen, it shows the latest and most popular James Patterson titles right at the top.


Record Grouping

You'll also notice in the picture above that Aspen uses Record Group (or FRBR) to easily display all the available formats your library holds. This includes digital items and physical books. Patrons can easily see an available format of their title, preview a digital version, place a hold, read a summary of the item, and check out right from the listing. This means a patron could be accessing an item in just 2-3 clicks within one page! Learn More about Record Grouping here. 

How does Aspen connect to our library website?

Integrate With Your Library Website

Aspen Discovery can integrate into your library website by adding a search box. Here are a couple of examples of basic search boxes but they can be customized with a little bit of coding during implementation. We can provide you with the base code or work with your web development team. Others may choose to hyperlink the catalog with an icon.

Embed a Collection Spotlight

One way to highlight collections is to embed a Collection Spotlight on your library website. We currently offer 6 different types of Collection Spotlight layouts for you to choose from. The code for these are automatically generated for you to use in Aspen Administration so the work is already done for you! Utilizing these are a great way to market your resources on other parts of your library website- for example tying in a collection of items that might relate to an upcoming program.

Forgo a Seperate Website All Together

How many times has a patron confused your library website and your library catalog? Do you have to request changes to your library website from another department or are you able to do them yourselves? Many of our Aspen partners are choosing to build out the content previously on their website all into Aspen to streamline their processes. Using the Web Builder functionality, you can create endless pages for your users to navigate all in one place!

The best part of Aspen Discovery's Web Builder is that you don't need to know any coding to get a site up! Basic Pages is available in Aspen Administration to get you started. With a little bit of coding knowledge, you can also design more complex Custom Pages.

How does Aspen stay current to changing trends?

Aspen Discovery is undergoing constant development to meet and exceed the demands of library patrons and staff. Development is community-driven so it is based on actual library usability testing and real-world situations. Decisions are being made at the front-lines in order to best serve library users.

In order to gain this feedback, we talk to our partners- A LOT. From onboarding to implementation to training and beyond; we look for opportunities to connect to partners through Zoom, chatting on Slack, emailing, and over the ticketing system.

Our Aspen Team is made up of library lovers and former library staff. Community feedback combined with our own experiences in public service and customer support are used to drive development.

Currently, Aspen Discovery is on monthly update schedule. When we put out a release, we have a short, interactive session to go over major enhancements that effect patrons and staff. We hold these at our Aspen Gatherings. 

How does Aspen handle upgrades?

Aspen releases a new version monthly. Libraries hosted by ByWater Solutions will always have the most up-to-date release each month.

The updates are done late at night and you may not even notice they have occurred (updates only take a couple of minutes)!


Here's our general process for upgrades:

Every first Thursday of the month, we have our Aspen Gathering at 2 pm ET. At the Gathering, our lead developer spends the first 15 minutes demoing new and exciting features available in the upcoming release. We also allow plenty of time for announcements, discussion, and general questions from the community.

That evening, ByWater-suppported libraries with test servers will get the first release of the code. This gives those libraries (and our team) time to test any new features in the release.

About two weeks later, ByWater-supported libraries will receive an update to their production servers for the full release.

The easiest way to keep track of updates and other community going-ons is on our Community page. Learn more mbout the Aspen Community here: https://help.aspendiscovery.org/community

Does Aspen work on all browsers?

Aspen works well on all modern browsers, including Chrome, Chromium, Chromium-based browsers, Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Safari.

Aspen is also fully mobile-responsive.

Aspen Weekly