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Discovery interfaces are one of the hottest new trends in the library Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) sphere, although currently usage is primarily limited to academic and public libraries. A discovery interface provides a more intuitive and productive experience for users, whether searching a library catalogue, an article index, or any other data source. It is a layer of software that sits on top of any existing database or integrated library system (ILS), such as Inmagic Genie, ingesting records in many formats, including MARC and XML, and providing a best-of-breed, web-based search interface for users.

Unlike traditional search systems, a discovery interface encourages serendipitous “discovery” of resources. For example, in a typical scenario, a user enters one or more keywords that express roughly what they are looking for and through a combination of features, the discovery layer guides them to relevant materials. These features include:

  • spelling corrections and did-you-mean suggestions of alternate terms;
  • related resources; and
  • faceted browsing, in which the user narrows down their search through an iterative process of selecting topics, authors, publication date ranges, material types, and so on.

These features were pioneered by companies such as Amazon and eBay and have proven to be successful in connecting users with the information they seek.


Over the past few years, this search paradigm has spread to libraries, with more and more either developing or purchasing systems that use these same features to assist patrons searching for library resources.

Discovery interfaces are often not limited to searching just one dataset. A single interface may index multiple library catalogues, digital repositories, websites or other external content.  With this approach, information is brought out of silos, and users need only use a single interface to access disparate resources.

Typically discovery interfaces provide many features to help users act on the records they retrieve, such as:

  • Saving searches or subscribing to an RSS feed to keep up to date with new additions to the database.
  • Sending a citation via SMS text message to a mobile device.
  • Saving, bookmarking, emailing and sharing records.
  • Adding tags and comments to records.
  • Exporting records to bibliographic management applications such as EndNote and RefWorks.
  • Simultaneously fetching external content, such as author biographies from Wikipedia, reader reviews from Amazon, and book covers from Google.

While public and academic libraries have been the most prominent adopters of discovery interfaces, most libraries could benefit from adding a discovery layer to their existing catalogues and other information repositories. A discovery interface has all the features users have come to expect on a web site and allows searching to be a more enjoyable experience.

Discovery layers are available from both commercial and non-commercial sources.


Leading commercial products


Leading open-source products



370+ sites


4+ sites


127+ sites


79+ sites

ExLibris Primo

106+ sites


Sirsi Dynix Enterprise

128+ sites



55+ sites


Source: Marshall Breedings’s Discovery Layer Interfaces page at

At Andornot Consulting, we’re particularly keen on VuFind, one of the leading open-source discovery interfaces, and Apache Solr, the underlying search engine. Learn more here, or try our VuFind demo here.

VuFind-Logo    Apache-Solr

With discovery interfaces appearing in so many public and academic libraries, the time is right for special libraries, archives and museums to consider them for their catalogues and other databases. The ease of use and wealth of features are compelling and provide the experience users expect from web applications.

Further Reading

Designing for Faceted Search” By Stephanie Lemieux, Earley and Associates (originally published in KM World, March 2009.)

Designing the Samurai sword: using facets to support agile, highly-effective information management” by Jennifer Smith. 1st June 2011.

VuFind usage five times that of "classic catalogue"

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