Librarian Jenica Rogers-Urbanek has a very interesting and in-depth post, Some thoughts on Federated Search, on her blog: Attempting Elegance. The post looks at the barriers that libraries face in getting users to use their online resources. It gives a perspective (all too familiar but well articulated) as to why students don’t typically find the library homepage to be a place they’d think of to initiate research. It offers the view that federated search may be a “temporary” solution to the problems, largely ones of usability, on the way to the “perfect” system. Of course, if “perfect” never materializes then “temporary” might be around for a really long time.
Rogers-Urbanek enumerates in her post some scenarios in which federated search might be of great, partial, or no value. Federated search is not the right approach, Rogers-Urbanek argues, when a controlled vocabulary or a very specific search capability is required that the federated search application won’t be able to provide.
Rogers-Urbanek does make an observation that I don’t see made that often – a federated search application can be used as a source discovery tool, helping students to identify the databases that are most relevant to their queries. Once a student has identified sources the student can go directly to these sources, if needed, to perform more in-depth searches.
The concluding paragraph sums up the post. Here’s its first sentence:
Federated search isn’t for every search, or every user, every time. But I believe that by unifying our resources under one branded, simplified, and friendly search portal, federated search has the possibility of serving all of our students at some point in their academic career.
Read the post. Its message is worth repeating to those who manage libraries.