In the last ten years, we’ve witnessed rapid growth in our collective investments in content discovery – in SEO, in perfecting our library supply-chain teamwork, and in understanding the researcher experience. Even with some industry standards emerging, the art and science of a dedicated path to optimum discoverability is no easy feat, as both the process and the end result varies from publisher to publisher – in part, based on their size, infrastructure, and business objectives. Last fall, I had the opportunity to put these practices to the test when I joined in the strategic development of a dedicated content discovery program within the platform team at Emerald Publishing. I’m pleased to share some highlights as a case study of how publishers might adopt a more deliberate, evidence-based approach to facilitating scholarly information seeking and retrieval.
In 2016, Emerald’s organizational shift to Agile methodologies offered the opportunity to focus on incremental experiments and development to optimize content discovery and usage. “A top strategic priority for Emerald is increasing the visibility of research output,” said Harriet Bell, Marketing Director. “We need to make sure that we’re doing right by authors, libraries and users in finding, discovering and sharing the best research today and on into the future.” When I began this project, Chris Leonard, Head of Product, wanted to usher in a user-centered, proactive approach to Emerald’s discoverability. With those ambitions in mind, we started by articulating a vision for ideal Emerald content discovery, aligned with their overall platform goals of ensuring an engaging and enjoyable navigational experience.
Once we could boil the program down into clear objectives with success metrics, the priorities became immediately clear: to the close the gaps in indexing where metadata wasn’t quite up to snuff, to optimize usage first and foremost within the channels of institutional services like web-scale discovery tools, and to focus on improving the metadata behind links within the library ecosystem. I found the digital product teams eager to expand their expertise in the mechanics of discovery, get a handle on library usage trends, and have positive impacts on the reader experience into and beyond the Emerald platform of journals, books, and case studies.
During a visit to their verdant offices in Northern England, I took a deep dive into understanding the Emerald customer and user experiences, and learning from staff expertise on the metadata lifecycle, from publication to distribution and beyond. In some areas, Emerald held competitive advantages – for instance, high-quality MARC records and adoption of the latest XML standards. Conversely, I not surprised to find some hair-pulling over KBART records and lack of customer training or resource around setting up Emerald collections within the library. Chatting with sales reps and customers, I could see that Emerald has a strong customer service reputation to uphold, but some gaps in library indexing were clear risks to that goodwill – and to their core business interests.
From there, we got to work on a variety of deeper audit exercises – from qualitative heuristics analysis of common user journeys, to quantitative evaluation of metadata and usage performance. We applied best practice from web standards to metadata standards to measure overall discovery performance. Making good use of their business intelligence resources, we began to define the key channels of navigation into the Emerald Insight platform. The outcomes of these audits quickly highlighted the areas for improvement and crystallized Emerald’s vision for optimum discovery programming. In my experience, investing in strategic planning toward a positive user discovery experience is a must-have in today’s scholarly publishing community, yet often not sufficiently resourced.
As I shared during a recent UKSG webinar discussion, this type of thoughtful discovery programming work can pave the way for more informed roadmapping and more impactful products – which, for Emerald, has meant that near-term priorities are not-so-dazzling development projects, like updating KBART files and streamlining MARC records production. Their 2017 roadmap now has a dedicated stream of enhancements focused on measurable impacts to institutional linking. They will focus this year on metadata enrichment and standards, which means improving the back-end systems that enable a smooth user experience in the navigation of EmeraldInsight.com. Making metadata for the library channel a top priority has meant delaying some of the sexier projects, like advanced SEO. Their clear vision for content discovery has prioritized activities, such as participation in NISO’s Open Discovery Initiative via publication of a conformance checklist – an exercise Emerald has found to illuminate opportunities for improving their participation in library discovery tools. When I joined the product team, I found Emerald primed to become an engaged member of the scholarly information supply chain – an ambition I would wish for all academic publishers of any shape or size.
Emerald has also made notable organizational changes in short order to support their new discovery work stream, where both systems and human resources are devoted to discoverability initiatives – as has been successful for their publishing peers, like Oxford University Press, SAGE, IEEE, and many others. Beginning with a rethink of their internal metadata workflows, Emerald has elevated their governance of product data and launched a cross-functional work group of staff assigned to deliver on the content discovery strategy. The Content Discovery Taskforce will make good use of a content discovery dashboard of customized metrics to routinely assess their impact on a positive discovery user experience.
Picking up the reins of this new discovery program next month will be a new a permanent product manager dedicated to keeping an eye on our ever-evolving ecosystem of scholarly content discovery and access. As a member of Leonard’s product team, this role is a business-focused content discovery specialist, with both a functional understanding of the research experience and technical perspective of how metadata connects users to the Emerald platform. As chair of the Content Discovery Taskforce, this product manager will lead the way forward on their content discovery strategy, adapting both the mechanics and the vision for optimum Emerald usage.
Scholarly publishers would be well served by moving off the back foot to a more preemptive stance in order to keep pace with the moving target in how users discover scholarly content and what libraries require to facilitate online research. Through this project, Emerald has made this shift by working more closely with discovery vendors to ensure smooth data exchange and more accurate indexing of their entire corpus. Without regular vigilance, numerous content gaps exist and ultimately undermine the goals of the entire supply chain. One key goal for Emerald is to close the time gap between the release of new publications and that content appearing in a library’s discovery tool with functional linking for users. And now, with specialized discoverability metrics, the new Content Discovery Taskforce will be able to measure impacts of their roadmap efforts.
When my term with Emerald comes to a close this spring, I leave this new discovery program in good hands and will be eagerly watching what they do next. Onwards and upwards!