Within many further and higher education institutions and their allied organisations there exists a wide-ranging, diverse group of libraries, archives and collections.
The digitisation of the assets they contain for the purposes of teaching, learning and research is a sophisticated activity sector-wide. But digitisation is only the first part of the journey, with the effective delivery of those assets being the second.
If researchers have no prior knowledge of a digital collection their first port of call is usually an online search engine or aggregator. This is all well and good but it does not necessarily guarantee that the end user, who would ultimately benefit from the collection, actually knows of its existence. This is where the issue of discoverability comes to the fore.
Making your digital collections easier to discover is a training event that we have created to answer this specific need. It consists of three webinars and two one-day workshops, each supported by a series of online guides, and each addressing key elements of the discoverability jigsaw. Here's some key elements to consider:
Researchers generally know what they are looking for and how to go about finding it. However, this might not be the case for teachers and learners, who are sometimes working outside their realm of knowledge. Digital collections that are proactive in supporting this sector with clear guidance on how to utilise the assets generally see a greater engagement.
Researchers have to provide citations within their outputs and this is a laborious – often manual - task. Enabling researchers to access digital collections and harvest citations more easily will result in researchers being more proactive in using these collections.
There is nothing more frustrating than navigating through a non-intuitive web site, going round in circles and never finding what you want. The same applies to digital collections, where time wasted looking for relevant items creates a negative user experience and may lead the user not to return.
Search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo have become ubiquitous throughout the online environment as the go-to place to find “stuff”. It is the same for digital collections and so these collections need to be proactive in making themselves discoverable by Google et al.
Every institution has its own system infrastructure for the delivery of various digital assets, including digital collections and catalogues. All too often, as digitisation projects are funded externally, the delivery of the resulting collection sits outside of the institutional infrastructure - making it all but impossible to integrate with the institution’s wider delivery system.
In academia there are a number of major online services that pull together resources relevant to researchers and students in particular sectors. Integrating digital collections within these aggregators will increase discoverability.
As with search engine usage, the use of social media has become a default means of communicating with subject specific communities, including researchers, teachers and students. Ignoring the potential of social media to reach these key audiences would be counter-intuitive; any digital collection looking to broaden its audience would be wise to consider a social media strategy.
Digital collections often have core stakeholders who are well versed in the assets they hold. These stakeholders may be staff members or end users such as researchers and they can play a vital role in promoting a digital collection but they will require guidance and support in how this might be achieved.
Among the learning and teaching community a number of key web sites are frequently used for research. Providing content to web sites such as Wikimedia, Flickr and YouTube will enable collections to become more readily discoverable, providing citations and references back to the original source material.
These insights only scratch the surface of what can be an extremely confusing and opaque subject. Across the board, with financial constraints ever more evident, it is increasingly important for institutions to justify their activities and funding. For digital collections this is often measured by digital footfall. Making your digital collections easier to discover can play a part in helping stakeholders to increase the discoverability and resulting footfall of their digital collections.