Research and Markets, a large producer of market research reports, has for sale a report: Academic Library Website Benchmarks. Per the report’s description “[t]he report presents data from 82 North American college libraries about their library website policies and development plans.”
Of particular interest is the second to last paragraph in the description:
Just over a third of the sample responded that they were currently offering federated search capabilities from the website, so that a broad range of library databases could be searched at once. Three out of four research universities had federated search capabilities, compared to just 53.33% of PhD-level granting institutions, 29.27% of 4-year/MA granting institutions, and just 8.33% of community colleges. The mean number of subject-specific search windows offered through federated searches was 19.72.
Clearly there is tremendous opportunity to sell federated search into the higher education market if, overall, only a third of the sample in the study reported offering federated search. Of deeper interest is the low use of federated search in 4-year/MA granting institutions (29%) and even lower level of adoption at community colleges (8%).
The question, of course, is “What are the barriers to adoption of federated search in higher education?” Abe sees these as the major concerns:
- A lack of confidence that federated search really finds mostly relevant documents while not missing important ones. In particular, early implementations of federated search were very poor, making some library staff anxious about exploring new offerings.
- The attitude of some seasoned librarians that searching a source’s native interface directly is preferable to searching all sources from the federated search interface.
- Cost of purchasing a solution, although that has been dropping. A library can today get a low-end implementation of federated search that accesses 50 sources for $10,000 per year.
- Cost of implementation and ongoing support and maintenance both in dollars and in personnel time. These can be minimized by outsourcing federated search as a service but there will always be some cost to deploy and maintain the service for the library.
Abe and I believe that federated search is worth another look as new generations of tools solve many of the old problems. Also, federated search, beyond its ability to bring together research documents from multiple sources, can be used to help students to discover new information sources, improving the utilization of sources the library is already paying for, better supporting their patrons.
What do you think it will take to sell more federated search solutions into higher education?