CiL 2008: What’s New With Federated Search

Speakers: Frank Cervone & Jeff Wisniewski

Cervone gave a brief over-view of federated searching, with Wisniewski giving a demonstration of how it works in the real world (aka University of Pittsburgh library) using WebFeat. UofP library has a basic search front and center on their home page, and then a more advanced searching option under Find Articles. They don’t have a Database A-Z list because users either don’t know what database means in this context or can’t pick from the hundreds available.

Cervone demonstrated the trends in using meta search, which seems to go up and down, but over-all is going up. The cyclical aspect due to quarter terms was fascinating to see — more dramatic than what one might find with semester terms. Searches go up towards mid-terms and finals, then drop back down afterwards.

According to a College & Research Libraries article from November 2007, federated search results were not much different from native database searches. It also found that faculty rated results of federated searching much higher than librarians, which begs the question, “Who are we trying to satisfy — faculty/students or librarians.”

Part of why librarians are still unconvinced is because vendors are shooting themselves in the foot in the way they try to sell their products. Yes, federated search tools cannot search all possible databases, but our users are only concerned that they search the relevant databases that they need. De-duplication is virtually impossible and depends on the quality of the source data. There are other ways that vendors promote their products in ways that can be refuted, but the presenters didn’t spend much time on them.

The relationships between products and vendors is incestuous, and the options for federated searching are decreasing. There are a few open source options, though: LibraryFind, dbWiz, Masterkey, and Open Translators (provides connectors to databases, but you have to create the interface). Part of why open source options are being developed is because commercial vendors aren’t responding quickly to library needs.

LibraryFind has a two-click find workflow, making it quicker to get to the full-text. It also can index local collections, which would be handy for libraries who are going local.

dbWiz is a part of a larger ERM tool. It has an older, clunkier interface than LibraryFind. It doesn’t merge the results.

Masterkey can search 100 databases at a time, processing and returning hits at the rate of 2000 records per second, de-duped (as much as it can) and ranked by relevance. It can also do faceted browsing by library-defined elements. The interface can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be.

Federated searching as a stand-alone product is becoming passe as new products for interfacing with the OPAC are being developed, which can incorporate other library databases. vufind, WorldCat local, Encore, Primo, and Aquabrowser are just a few of the tools available. NextGen library interfaces aim to bring all library content together. However, they don’t integrate article-level information with the items in your catalog and local collections very well.

Side note: Microsoft Enterprise Search is doing a bit more than Google in integrating a wide range of information sources.

Trends: Choices from vendors is rapidly shrinking. Some progress in standards implementation. Visual search (like Grokker) is increasingly being used. Some movement to more holistic content discovery. Commercial products are becoming more affordable, making them available to institutions of all sizes of budgets.

Federated Search Blog for vendor-neutral info, if you’re interested.

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