Discoverability: The Key to Helping Your Patrons Find What They Need

Feb 7, 2024


A key challenge in the realm of librarianship is discoverability, or enabling your patrons to discover the resources they want or need in an efficient manner. We all know that libraries serve their communities through offering a wealth of knowledge, but without the ability to effectively locate resources, that service is not as impactful. Giving your patrons the ability to navigate the vast sea of your libraries’ resources is paramount to their user experience and ensures that your collection is fulfilling its potential.


The Role of Metadata

Retrieval of an item from a database is entirely dependent upon appropriate metadata. Access points allow items to be discovered through a variety of identifying descriptors, such as title, author, summary, series, subject, etcetera. These access points allow not just location information, but also collocation information, which allows patrons to discover additional resources in their same vein of research. Making sure that a resource’s record contains appropriate metadata in the correct fields is key to making sure that your patrons find what they need when they need it.

Utilize Your ILS

Before attributing keywords to your resources, you will want to know which fields are searchable. Your ILS’s support documentation should let you know what fields the public catalog uses for keywords when a patron enters a search term. The most common fields used are title, author, summary, series, and subject headings. Once you know which fields are used by your ILS, you can ensure that they contain the appropriate information needed to be successfully located.

The Power of Subject Headings

In many cases, keywords associated with a resource will be in the title or summary. However, there are times when you will need to add subject headings to ensure that all major topics covered by a resource are mentioned in its record. For example, a patron may use magic as a search term in your public catalog. On the database side, you may have a fantasy book about a young wizard and friends learning to wield magic, however, the term magic is not found in the title, summary, or current headings of the book’s record. This book will not be found the patron, rendering it undiscoverable for this patron. Adding the term magic to the subject headings heightens the chance of the book being found when needed.
To learn more about subject headings, check out our blog Subject Headings: What They Are and Why They Matter.

Other Ways to Heighten Discoverability
Ensuring that your resources have appropriate metadata is a very important step in enhancing your collection’s discoverability. Other methods to aid discoverability include:
• Create resource lists for popular topics
• Keeping your collection relevant through weeding practices
• Create engaging displays
• Ensure your OPAC is user friendly
• Use a classification scheme that is easy for your patrons to navigate


Discoverability is the linchpin that holds together the relevance and usefulness of your libraries’ collection. Through ensuring your resources are easily discoverable, libraries not only aid their patrons in locating what they need, but they also give each resource a chance to be found! To every book their reader, to every reader their book. Happy cataloging!

About Surpass Software  


Surpass is the easy-to-use, cloud-based library management system for libraries of all types and sizes. Whether you’re a school, church, museum, business, or any other organization with resources to lend, Surpass is likely a good fit for you. We pride ourselves on being affordable and flexible, with an expert support team ready to help you at a moment’s notice.

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