July 08, 2006

Up and running

Last fall a fellow librarian and I were asked to do a session at the Arkansas Library Association on federated searching. Just barely knowing what it was at the time, we hesitated. After some thought, we decided it would be a good way to learn about federated searching and agreed to do the session. In the beginning, the thought was "this is not good" and "it's too limited" and that was basically how we approached it.

We ended up having a ball doing the research and even got to test a couple of the available products. We were "converted." We definitely see a use (need) for this product, especially for undergraduate students (we're both academic librarians). Since then, every time we hear about a new federated search product or updates to an existing one, we're right there checking it out.

Which, in a round about way, brings us to the ALA conference. This year was my first time to attend ALA. Louisiana is my home state, so I was happy that my first ALA conference was also supporting New Orleans. I did even manage to throw in some site seeing. The sessions were good as were the Exhibits.

I have yet to see a federated search engine that I didn't think was cool. I've seen and played with CentralSearch by SerialsSolutions, which will incorprate Vivisimo's technology, providing clustered results and with Multi-Search by CSA. At conference I was able to look at several others that were also very cool: I looked at Ebsco's WebFeat Express (pretty nice); at Vubis' VSpaces, which looks to be very cool and will include an OpenURL resolver, and at Innovative Interfaces MetaFind, which will morph into something more when they launch Encore, which looked to also be very cool. I'll be interested to see it when they're ready to go.

Most federated searching products will do the same thing - allow for subject groupings; incorporate web resources, library opacs, subscription databases; and show where the results are coming from (a feature we look for). Where you'll see differences is in appearance (how the interface looks); administration (who does it - you or the vendor); pricing (most do it by the number of connectors, where a connector can be a database, a search engine, a library, etc.), and fields search. When federated search engines first emerged, what fields they searched were limited. Now, we're seeing where abstracts and subject fields can be searched in addition to author, title, keyword. In short, what can be searched is improving by leaps and bounds.

We're still looking and will post what we find.

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