Frequently Asked Questions about Aspen Discovery

We wanted to round up some of our frequently asked questions about Aspen Discovery. We pulled together questions from demos and conversations with partners to put these FAQs in one place. Even if you are already familiar or using Aspen, there are so many different functionalities, we hope this is still an opportunity to learn something new or get a refresher!

1. How does Aspen know how to sort results? Will our patrons and staff be able to find what they need?

One of the most important aspects of a library catalog is putting materials that patrons want in front of them faster. Aspen does this through things we've come to expect from online searching like suggested spelling and predictive text; and in ways we might not consider like it's code.

Relevancy in Aspen depends on boosting scores. There are many factors that are included in the relevancy of a particular title for a patrons search. It is based on a combination of settings and built in code that has been in development for over ten years. For example, boosting scores are based on parameters like the number of copies your library may have and the amount of circulation of an item. These scores help bring the most relevant items to the top of your search.

Here is a search for "Patterson" on another discovery layer (left) versus Aspen Discovery (right) to see the difference first hand. In the catalog search on the left, James Patterson doesn't appear until the 3rd page of results. In Aspen, it shows the latest and most popular James Patterson titles right at the top.

Record Grouping

You'll also notice in the picture above that Aspen uses Record Group (or FRBR) to easily display all the available formats your library holds. This includes digital items and physical books. Patrons can easily see an available format of their title, preview a digital version, place a hold, read a summary of the item, and check out right from the listing. This means a patron could be accessing an item in just 2-3 clicks within one page! Learn more about these topics by clicking below.

Relevancy in Aspen Discovery

Record Grouping

2. How does Aspen integrate with our existing ILS and e-content providers?

Unlike traditional proprietary vendors, with open source, we are able to connect to a wide variety of resources to tailor your discovery layer to what fits your individual library's needs! We use APIs to connect to you ILS, so if you don't see it on the list, don't worry, we most likely are able to connect to it! Currently, we have partners on the following ILS:

  • CARL.X
  • Horizon
  • Koha
  • Polaris
  • Sierra
  • Symphony
  • Sierra

Similarly, we connect to a variety of e-content providers through APIs. Here are a few of the most popular ones our partners use:

  • Axis360
  • Cloud Library
  • Hoopla
  • Overdrive

Read more about Integrations here.

3. How does Aspen highlight archives and other special collections?

Explore More

One way Aspen incorporates archives and other special collections is through the Explore More section of catalog results. This usually displays under the first few results in a query. In the search below, I searched for a historical figure in the town. The search brings up historical photos and other archive results. Explore More might also display lists, library events, and other external sites.

Website Indexing

To pull in external website items into Explore More and your search results, you can set up Website Indexing for various sites. Aspen will comb through the external website(s) and pull in results that match your search.

Website Builder

Our partners have created informative and beautiful web pages on local history as well as events in regard to their local history. You can see here that Uintah County Library has a menu in Aspen that links to external sites as well as internal Aspen sites they've created using Website Builder.

4. Our patrons and staff love lists, what type of functionality does Aspen have for lists?

Our Aspen Team loves lists too and we are continually releasing new features and enhancements to make lists more robust for patrons and staff. Creating lists with Aspen is limitless- literally! Lists can contain as many or as few items as you wish and you can create however many lists you want.


Because lists are unlimited in Aspen, you can have lists for marketing specific collections, programs, events, special months or to targeting specific patron groups.

Once a list is created, you can easily turn it into a visually appealing Browse Category on the front of your site within a few clicks. Browse Categories have been shown to drive circulation for featured items. You can also turn the list into a Collection Spotlight. These spotlights can be embedded into external websites to further drive traffic to that list. Currently there are 6 different types of Collection Spotlights available for you to use! Read more below:

Browse Categories

Collection Spotlights

Lists for Patrons

Staff aren't the only ones who can utilize lists! Many patrons are happy to see that Aspen has New York Times Best Sellers Lists. Staff will be happy that these update automatically once a week through API connections, so it's one less thing for staff to worry about.

Patrons can create their own lists right from a catalog search. Once a list is created and set to “Public”, the creator will have the option to "Email list", "Print list", and "Generate Citations".

Once a list is created, patrons can perform multiple actions for items right in their list.

The item in the list is a duplicate of what appears in the catalog so all functions are available right within the lists. So, patrons can check out digital resources, preview items, and place holds on materials. Patrons also get unlimited lists so that they can organize their interests as in-depth as they want. Learn more about patron and staff lists below.

Using Lists as a Staff Member

Using Lists as a Patron

5. How can Aspen help our patrons discover our databases?

We know that you library is so much more than books! You probably subscribe to at least half a dozen databases that have valuable information for your patrons to access. Aspen is flexible enough for each library to decide which databases your library would like to feature.

Aspen automatically is designed to have a Resources page that easily displays all of your electronic databases. Most libraries also take advantage of Aspen's Placards to highlight library resources based on keyword. For example, a library that subscribes to Mango Languages (or other language database) can set the keyword(s) "language", "French", "learn a language", "Spanish", etc. to display a Placard, or advertisement, at the top of the page to promote Mango Languages. These Placards can be created with whatever images and text a library wishes to create!

If you subscribe to Ebsco Discovery (EDS), Aspen will automatically pull in results over to your system like any other e-content provider with an API. search results will show up in the “Explore More” section of the search results.

Another way to access additional resources from databases, archives, and genealogy records is through the various drop down options in the search bar.

6. What’s the big deal about discovery layers? Isn’t my ILS enough?

A library ILS does many wonderful things from cataloging to invoicing and from organizing patron account information to managing holds. A library ILS was the mainstay for decades, radically transforming the physical card catalog and increasing access for patrons. As library services have rapidly expanded, library catalogs and websites have become much more complex.

Libraries are now circulating so much more than physical books. You might have a handful to dozens of vendors offering things like e-books, magazines, research databases, streaming video, and online classes. Your library might be checking out items like laptops, seeds, games, bike locks, and hot spots.

On top of the circulating items, libraries typically offer dozens of events, clubs, and special programs each month. With libraries offering so much, our technologies have had to adapt in order to help patrons discover these resources.

A part of the necessity of the discovery layer is the expectations of our patrons. Libraries are serving groups from multiple generations, with the younger generations never knowing a world without the Internet and computers. They are used to Google and similar one-stop search engines. They are used to visual and predictive platforms for streaming, shopping, and scrolling. They expect the same user-friendly and interactive experience from their library catalog.

7. How does Aspen stay current to changing trends?

Aspen Discovery is undergoing constant development to meet and exceed the demands of library patrons and staff. Development is community-driven so it is based on actual library usability testing and real-world situations. Decisions are being made at the front-lines in order to best serve library users.

In order to gain this feedback, we talk to our partners- A LOT. From onboarding to implementation to training and beyond; we look for opportunities to connect to partners through Zoom, chatting on Slack, emailing, and over the ticketing system.

Our Aspen (and other teams at ByWater) are made up of library lovers and former library staff. Community feedback combined with our own experiences in public service and customer support are used to drive development.

Currently, Aspen Discovery is on an every three week update schedule. When we put out a release, we have a short, interactive session to go over major enhancements that effect patrons and staff. We call these meetings Aspen Updates... In An Instant.

8. A bulk of our users access our catalog through their phones. Is Aspen only web-based?

A 2021 Pew Research study found that 85% of Americans own a smartphone. It's no wonder so many library users are accessing library sites through these devices! Aspen Discovery is mobile responsive and optimized to fit various mobile phones and tablets. Features like filtering, search facets and the Explore More section are all still available in an easily to use mobile view. Click the video to watch a quick preview of scrolling through Benbrook Public Library's mobile site.

Mobile App

The Aspen Discovery Mobile App is currently undergoing testing and we plan to launch the app by the end of the Summer 2021 to our existing partners.

We want Aspen to offer something for everyone and are happy to put the same visually appealing graphics, Browse Categories, and other engaging features patrons have come to expect from Aspen Discovery right in the palm of their hands. Here are some sneak preview photos of the app!

9. How does Aspen connect to our library website?

Integrate With Your Library Website

Aspen Discovery can integrate into your library website by adding a search box. Here are a couple of examples of basic search boxes but they can be customized with a little bit of coding during implementation. We can provide you with the base code or work with your web development team. Others may choose to hyperlink the catalog with an icon, like the magnifying glass below.

Embed a Collection Spotlight

One way to highlight collections is to embed a Collection Spotlight on your library website. We currently offer 6 different types of Collection Spotlight layouts for you to choose from. The code for these are automatically generated for you to use in Aspen Administration so the work is already done for you! Utilizing these are a great way to market your resources on other parts of your library website- for example tying in a collection of items that might relate to an upcoming program.

Forgo a Seperate Website All Together

How many times has a patron confused your library website and your library catalog? Do you have to request changes to your library website from another department or are you able to do them yourselves? Many of our Aspen partners are choosing to build out the content previously on their website all into Aspen to streamline their processes. Using the Web Builder functionality, you can create endless pages for your users to navigate all in one place!

Here is an example of Benson Memorial Library integrating library information into their Aspen Discovery interface.

The best part of Aspen Discovery's Web Builder is that you don't need to know any coding to get a site up! Basic Pages is available in Aspen Administration to get you started. With a little bit of coding knowledge, you can also design more complex Custom Pages.

10. What type of support is available with Aspen Discovery?

Our support model at ByWater Solutions is transparent and customer-forward. Our motto at ByWater is "Happy Partners" and we plan all our processes around making that possible. We never charge piecemeal for support or training.

One of our favorite parts of Aspen Discovery is the community around it. We meet monthly at our Aspen Gatherings to talk news, updates, and developments. These are genuinely our favorite days of the month. People are free to voice their ideas and suggestions; and share how they are using Aspen in their libraries. This peer-to-peer network has been amazing to see grow. Libraries are sharing code, images, programs, marketing, and more.

Beyond the monthly meetings, we interact on a dedicated Slack workspace that is made up of library staff and Aspen Team members. We also have an email ListServ that is accessible to partners. At ByWater, we have a ticketing system to track support request and developments.

On our website we offer free training materials and videos. We are currently working to make our Aspen Help manual more robust and user-friendly based off of library feedback. We created Aspen for you so we are always looking to make improvements to help and support you!

We enjoyed putting together these frequently asked questions about Aspen Discovery and we hope you did too! We love Aspen and love supporting libraries. Have another question about Aspen we didn't answer? Just ask! We also offer ongoing demos for you to enjoy. Feel free to join live or watch the recordings. Or contact us to schedule a meeting one-on-one.

Read more by Kalleen Marquise