Tips and Tricks for EBSCO Discovery Users

Here at Out-of-Door I took the plunge and upgraded from EBSCO’s Integrated Search to their Discovery service in 2010. This coincided exactly with the gestation and arrival of my younger son, and the processes did feel rather similar. They involved monumental changes, they took a long period of time, caused me to feel both elation and uncertainty, and in the intervening years I have never been sorry I undertook the endeavor.

Enough sentimentality and metaphor! Onto practical matters. For those of you who are using EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS), I hope these help. If you’re not, maybe these tidbits will make it seem more feasible. If you see things I’ve overlooked or have a better way to do it, please share in the comments below.

  • Let’s start with the most basic of all aspects: price. It is the most expensive single item in my budget. I find it to be worth every penny in terms of the firepower it brings to research, and we are able to purchase it through the MISBO consortium at a very substantial discount. You can add or subtract EBSCO packages to the base price of the EDS architecture, so there is some flexibility in what you’re buying.
  • Remember to update your local collection within EDS periodically. When you add new books or other materials to your collection, these items do not update automatically in EDS. I export my entire catalog and then upload it via FTP about once every three months to ensure that new books will appear in an EDS search. It takes about 24 hours for the update to take.
  • Check periodically to make sure it’s really federating everything you want. Sometimes the link between EDS and other subscriptions you have set up inside it will expire, and then you will not see results from databases to which you subscribe. Our Gale Academic OneFile link expired earlier this fall and it seriously impacted my results. If the link is expired, simply get in touch with their help desk and they can fix it almost immediately. By the way, one of my favorite things about EBSCO is their customer service and support. Their tech help desk is staffed by software geniuses who must have psychology minors – their people skills are spectacular and they’ve solved every problem I have laid at their feet.
  • Managing your results. The chief complaint is that holy cow, does it return a LOT of results, so many that students’ eyes cross at the thought of sifting through 3,743,289 results for a basic search on Shakespeare. Here are my favorite strategies:
    • Make sure to set up your relevancy rankings so that your own local holdings appear at the top. This highlights items in your own collection, can boost circulation numbers, and at the very least gives you an opportunity to talk to students directly if they come to you to find those resources for a project. Face time AND a circ boost, win!
    • This is crucial: at an administrative level, turn off the databases that are irrelevant to you. Many of the results you are getting are for things that are indexed but not available to you in full-text form. It is entirely possible your users will want those results, but I find that mine really want things they can actually read, so knock out some of that metadata and your results will be much more satisfying for most users.
    • On that same note, every month or so you are informed via email that EBSCO has added this or that (or all of these!) database/s to what is being indexed. It really pays to visit your administrative settings frequently to turn off whatever has just been added if you don’t want that metadata to appear in your results page. “Citation creep” is real!
    • When you demonstrate EDS to users, remind them they can filter their results themselves quite narrowly. You can filter for full-text only and you can filter by the type of publication. This means you can filter out all those pesky book reviews that so often clutter up the results page. I’m sure our users need book reviews once in a while, but I find that generally most of them don’t. You can also filter very tightly for date range: only newspapers from 1960-65 on the subject of the Cold War, for example. With advanced searching techniques, even narrower results are possible, such as those by a particular author or in a certain publication.
  • Your audience. Is it suitable for a middle school audience? That depends on the databases you decide to federate into it. If you truly federate everything, then there will be results presented that may be unsuitable for middle school readers. I don’t mean in terms of content, although certainly that is very likely, but rather it may give them things they can’t successfully read and interpret. The user can limit the search by content provider to narrow it to age-appropriate databases, but that’s only possible after an initial search returns results to be filtered. It is possible to search within selected publications, such as Calliope or Highlights, but that kind of defeats the purpose of a discovery service.

As always, feel free to get in touch with me at if you’ve got specific questions, and I really encourage other users to post their tips and tricks in the comments down below.


11 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks for EBSCO Discovery Users

  1. I so (so!) needed this, thank you!!!! What awesome practical advice. Looking forward to following the comments on this thread. Thanks again, Alyssa.

  2. Here are some pertinent questions from Matt Ball of Pace Academy in Atlanta:

    First, do you still have a separate catalog interface or do users who want to look for books find them through EDS?
    •We still maintain a catalog with Follett Destiny. Since we use it for our management anyway, the catalog is part of the deal. I have a widget for it placed in all my LibGuides, and it is on the resource page for the library in our learning management system (we use Canvas.) There are plenty of times when a student says, “Nope! I ONLY want a book.” Besides, then we can talk about what a catalog is, which is useful too.

    Secondly, do you have all those free websites that EBSCO provides access to turned on or are your users only finding resources from your licensed products?
    •Generally I try to turn off *most* of the results generated from sources to which we do not subscribe ourselves, unless they offer true full-text results. All that metadata just clutters things up for most users. For serious searchers, they lead to heartbreak because it LOOKS like the perfect article is right there ready to help you crush it on your research paper, but then you click and it’s just a citation. Sigh.

    And finally, would it be possible to see and play with your implementation of EDS?
    •Working on it! I can’t give you access through our LMS, but I might be able to set up a dummy student account in EDS itself. When I do, I’ll be sure to get in touch directly and let you wander the digital hallways, so to speak.

  3. Jean Pfluger, of Duchesne Academy in Houston asks:
    One question I have from your comments is about filtering out “book reviews.” Even when we choose Full-Text Only we get book reviews from JSTOR and GALE, as many of them are full articles or an article with several book reviews in one.

    •In the left-hand column of the results page (depending on how you’ve set that up visually), there are filters for full text, for date range, etc. There is also a filter labeled “Source Types.” If you check only the types you want: magazines, journals, etc., you can UNCHECK book reviews and kick most of these out of the pile. If it’s a book review masquerading as something else, it won’t catch it, but this does a good job almost all the time. I wish I could post an image of what that looks like here – I might try and place one in my blog post above for clarity. Hope that helps!

    • Thank you Alyssa, I tried this and it did work for some of the Book Reviews. However, book reviews are also tagged in the Subject category as Book Review. Subjects: Books — Book reviews; Because of this, when I followed your suggestions, the first record that showed up was a Book Review because of the Subject. So, in addition to UNCHECK book reviews in the Source Types, I had to go to Subject and UNCHECK book reviews. And, the only way I could do that was to check all the subjects and then UNCHECK book reviews. So, I may have a conversation with EBSCO support to see if perhaps they can make this a bit easier.

  4. Thank you, Alyssa! This is amazingly helpful. I find the promise of a one-stop shop for my subscription content incredibly enticing, but at the same time I find myself unready (costs aside) to take the leap into EDS. I had a great back and forth with Matt Ball from Pace about balancing the desire to improve the source-literacy piece and address what, I think, is the real root of students’ location and access issue, with the pragmatic need to just get better quality content before my students’ eyes. I guess that is why I’m so hoping to be able to experience a realtime live implementation. I’m hoping that the interface is clean and transparent enough that it would both allow us to continue to improve our students’ source-literacy, while getting great content to my student-scholars. You sound like you are doing amazing things!

    • Hi David. Yes, the debate between teaching the students to search each database for source-literacy skill building versus the attractions of an integrated search was something I wrestled with, but here’s what tipped me:
      Most people shop at the grocery store. A real gourmet with endless time can go to a cheesemonger, butcher, bakery, charcuterie shop, pastry shop, greenmarket, wine merchant, etc. to get a week’s worth of supplies, but most people go to the grocery store because they have one hour per week to devote to shopping. It’s certainly better than going to McDonald’s 21 times a week. If Google is McDonald’s, then EDS is a grocery store and individual databases are all those specialty shops we *should* go to but can’t always make time to visit. So, it’s my compromise between what can be junk food research and something more nutritious. One student, when confronted with 50,000 results for his EDS search, said “Huh. It’s like Google, but it’s all, you know, good.” I know McDonald’s sells salad, but I think he made his point.

  5. Thank you for a helpful article. We haven’t taken that step with Ebsco yet (and we may not ever), but it is nice to be able to learn from your experience

  6. Thanks, Alyssa. You make me laugh and think, as always. This is the first year that I’ve been using and promoting Discovery Service (EDS). I’m falling into the trap of making finding aid pages for each project with a Discovery Service link at the top and an, “Or you can search by each database,” box at the bottom of the page that has links and notes about the specific, helpful databases. This inclusion of the new and old ways might be a good thing as we transition, but I’m worried that I’m not jumping into Discovery Service with both feet.

    One other thing that I want to mention is that I planned to encourage the students to narrow their results by Content Provider. Because Discovery Service is built on the EBSCO framework, the students can’t narrow by the EBSCO databases that are the backbone of the system. So, they can narrow by “MAS Ultra” but not “Academic Search Elite,” which is our flagship database. Yes, the “Academic Search Elite” results are included prominently in the results list, but I can’t just state, “For this stage of your particular project, you should narrow your results to JSTOR and Academic Search Elite.” I was kind of frustrated when I realized this. I now have them narrow by Source Type, but the source types don’t necessarily match what I expected. For example, ABC-CLIO articles seem to be the only articles that come up under “Electronic Resources.” I’m not sure that my students would naturally include them, but that is where I often like to send them first for background info. I’ve just set up a page that says which types of sources are good for background knowledge, and which types are better once their thoughts are more developed.

    When we completed our trial of EDS, ALL of the teacher feedback supported going toward this product, even when I explained my hesitations. We like that it is clear where the students should go when their teacher just says, “Use the library databases!” When I have the opportunity to collaborate I can direct the students a little better, but when I don’t at least they have a clean entry into all of our databases. I’ve also noticed more academic libraries moving toward discovery services.

  7. Pingback: Barriers to Access | Independent Ideas

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