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.

Aspen Weekly


Expanded Goals in 2023: