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November 2011

In the current phase of library technology, it is common for discovery systems to be implemented in a manner loosely coupled with core automation systems.  We’ve evolved away from a time where the online catalog module of the integrated library system could stand as the primary search tool, at least for those with large and varied collections.  An increasing number of libraries have implemented discovery interfaces more loosely tied to the core ILS.  The discovery interface may or may not be produced by the same company as the ILS, and an interesting set of dynamics has emerged among the organizations offering these products, with the library often carrying the burden of making sure that everything works together smoothly. 

From a technology perspective, discovery interfaces interact with the ILS through a fairly well-established set of protocols.  Data from the ILS are exported and re-indexed in the discovery system.  Behind-the-scenes API’s and other mechanisms allow the discovery interface to interrogate the ILS regarding current status and availability of any given item as needed during a user session.  In most cases, it’s also possible for patrons to place holds or make other requests through the discovery system that that are then reflected in their account on the ILS.   In 2008, a workgroup of the Digital Library Federation developed a set of protocols and practices called the Integrated Library System – Discovery Interface, or ILS-DI, to help regularize the interactions between these two types of products.

--Marshall Breeding

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