Richland Library

EBSCO Discovery Service API helps South Carolina public library to create in-site search that meets customer expectations

At a Glance

Richland Library
Columbia, South Carolina

Institution Type:   Public Libraries
Related Products:   EBSCO Discovery Service

richland library featured image


Richland Library in Columbia, S.C., and its ten satellite libraries throughout Richland County serve roughly 400,000 residents. To improve the customer experience, Richland Library recently launched a new website built with Drupal that allows users to conduct a variety of tasks—such as reserve books and DVDs, locate articles, download eBooks and AudioBooks, or find classes and events—all from a single search box on the home page. To achieve this, Richland Library implemented the EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) API, a tool that enables institutions to bring EBSCO’s content, features, and functionality into their existing library management systems. Since integrating a new ILS and the EDS API into the library website, Richland Library has seen a noticeable increase in the number of searches and downloads.

We focused on developing a platform that would allow us to execute on that vision of bringing services into the website.

Kelly Coulter
Virtual Services Manager
Richland Library


In 2012, shortly after beginning his position as User Experience Specialist, Steven Shelton surveyed Richland Library customers who had submitted complaints about the library’s website. He discovered that many of their issues with the library’s “website” were actually about the catalog or one of the library’s external vendor sites. But to customers, Shelton explained, these were one and the same. “They were frustrated that they had to log in to each interface,” he said.

Kelly Coulter, Richland Library’s Virtual Services Manager, said that the functions of a library website should be seamless to customers. “People don’t understand the difference [between the library website and its external vendors], and there shouldn’t be a difference,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to understand the structure of our business model in order to do business with us.”

In April 2013, Coulter gave a presentation called “The Ideal User Experience for Library Websites” at the Computers in Libraries Conference held in Washington D.C. The focus of her talk was about how library websites could better meet customer expectations. Coulter argued that all customer visits should begin and end at the library website, which should be optimized for mobile devices, and all library-owned content should “live under one roof.”

“We need to bring services into our websites. That way we can control the user experience more than if we’re just a portal sending customers off to other websites,” said Coulter, who has a background in commercial web development. “It has to be easy for our customers, or they’re going to go somewhere else. I knew we had this really limited window to grab them and give them what they needed before they were just going to go to Google.”

EBSCO Regional Sales Manager Brittany Bryan, who attended Coulter’s presentation at the Computers in Libraries Conference, offered Richland Library a trial of the EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) API.

“The more she talked about the experience she wanted to create for library users, the more apparent it was that our EDS API would be a natural fit for Richland Library,” Bryan said.


The EDS API fit in with Coulter’s plans to enhance the Richland Library website so that customers could (1) complete transactions such as holds, renewals, and fine payments, (2) quickly and easily locate what they are looking for, whether it’s a book, article, event, or job posting, and (3) find useful and usable information and resources, without ever having to leave the familiar library interface.

Coulter said the library’s in-house web developer worked with a freelance programmer to integrate the EDS API with Drupal, an open source content management system. The new library website features a search box at the top of the page with a drop-down menu of search options that anticipate what the customer might want to do. The search results page displays “bento boxes” that pull in data from different sources, including EDS and Polaris, the library’s new ILS. Customers can also access library content using the three main navigation elements—Check it Out, Research It, and Download It.

Pulling EDS content into the library’s website is easy with the EDS API. The library website passes the user’s search parameters to the EDS API and then presents the EDS results on the library website in a way that is formatted and styled to maintain the institution’s branding.

“We focused on developing a platform that would be stable and would allow us to execute on that vision of bringing services into the website rather than sending people off the website,” Coulter said, adding that the site is accessible on mobile devices. “The navigation and the architecture are built around the idea that we want to allow people to interact with the library in the way that they expect.”

As of January 2014, Richland Library was the first public library in the world to implement the EDS API in this manner.

“We are pretty excited about it,” said Coulter.

Benefits & Results

Richland Library launched the enhanced website on December 3, 2013. Since then, library use has increased. In December 2013 alone, nearly 5.8 million searches were logged in EDS. In addition, more eBooks and Audiobooks were downloaded in December 2013 compared to the same month the previous year.

Coulter said she has not yet received a lot of customer feedback, given that the new site only released a short time ago, but she expects customers are finding it to be much more intuitive. “People identify with the idea that we should be doing all of this on our website and not be sending them somewhere else,” she said. “This is one step toward that ideal user experience.”

Coulter said she and her team plan to conduct a usability study in the next few months to evaluate how customers are interacting with the site, but she is excited about what her team has been able to accomplish thus far.

“I would love to think that we prove our relevance in the community by continuing to be the go-to information source,” Coulter said. “The only way to do that is to make [our website] easy to use.”

To learn more about EBSCO Discovery Service, or to request a free trial, click here.