The Open Discovery Initiative: Reasons to Engage

The Open Discovery Initiative (ODI) was launched over 10 years ago to foster transparency in web-scale library discovery services. These services, provided by vendors such as Ex Libris, EBSCO, and OCLC, are based on large-scale indexes of bibliographic data about content typically provided by libraries to their users—articles, books, images, etc.—and, in some cases, include full text. Also known as “web-scale discovery services,” these products have become essential to the ways many libraries provide unified access to their collections of journals, databases, and books.


What, then, was the problem that ODI was created to address? In many cases, particularly in the early years of these web-scale discovery services (the first, Summon, came into being in 2009), there was a great deal of uncertainty within the library community about the specific titles, metadata, and content that were being included in the services. ODI was created to lend transparency to this ecosystem, initially as a way for discovery services and the content providers whose materials are indexed in them to describe what was available to end users for display or for indexing purposes, and for libraries to better understand how the content they licensed for use via contracts with individual vendors overlapped with what was available through the discovery service. These two stakeholder groups were invited to publish conformance statements, outlining the degree to which they followed the recommended practice.

In 2020, the original Recommended Practice was updated (see NISO RP-19-2020, Open Discovery Initiative: Promoting Transparency in Discovery) to update the existing conformance statements for discovery and content providers. The original ODI Recommended Practice had focused primarily on how libraries could better understand the content and discovery providers’ configurations and affordances. The updated Recommended Practice extends this model to libraries. After all, libraries play a critical role in maintaining the health of the discovery ecosystem, by ensuring that they configure their discovery services for their own campuses and enable linking to full-text resources through content providers. 

Participating in the Open Discovery Initiative

Regardless of which user community you belong to (discovery providers, content providers, or libraries), you can participate in the Open Discovery Initiative by completing and publishing the appropriate conformance statement. A conformance statement turns the ODI Recommended Practice into a series of statements to which you respond that you conform, that you do not conform, or that you partially conform. For each statement, you are invited to provide clarifying or explanatory comments. It is not expected that any provider or library is fully conformant with the Recommended Practice. The statements are aspirational, and partial conformance is likely the appropriate response in many cases.

Getting Started—Conformance Statement Workshops

ODI team members have offered separate workshops for libraries and content providers to walk through the process of completing conformance statements for their organizations. Even though the statements are designed to be straightforward, discovery is a complicated process that requires many individuals’ participation. These workshops expand on the conformance statement to suggest the job roles within your organization, whether a library or content provider, that might have the information you need to complete your conformance statement. 

NISO makes recordings of these sessions available on the ODI website: a workshop for libraries and a workshop for content providers. These 45-minute sessions are a great resource for getting the process started at your organization. 

The ODI Value Proposition

The Open Discovery Initiative recognizes the particular value each of the three stakeholder groups derives from a well-configured and transparent discovery environment.

  • For libraries and their users, finding relevant content is more efficient and streamlined when it’s all in one platform. ODI makes it easier for library staff (and through training and instruction, the library’s user community) to understand which resources are included in the discovery services and—importantly—which are not.
  • For content providers, participating in web-scale discovery services by contributing the metadata and content they manage or create increases the visibility and exposure of their products, thereby increasing usage and decreasing the likelihood of cancellations. ODI makes customers aware of your participation in the discovery ecosystem and highlights your interest in transparency.
  • For discovery providers, participating in ODI increases transparency, improving customer satisfaction and retention, by allowing content providers to understand how their intellectual property will enhance discovery and libraries to know what is searchable (and what is not) via the discovery service.

For more information on these resources, please see the specific pages for libraries, content providers, and discovery providers on the ODI website. To see other participants’ completed conformance statements, visit the list of completed library conformance statements.