Here’s a good blog post about perception of federated search from students, faculty, and librarians. Yes, this blog post is a year old but its message is timeless and the issue is well explained, so it’s definitely worth a read.
The concern is quality of search results, which I’ve discussed in my quality of search results primer, in my commentary on the study of undergraduates and federated search at Brigham Young, in my post about the trouble with general search engines, and in other places. The argument is that students can search sources more effectively if they use the search interface provided by the source. This is true. But the real question is, “What will students actually do?” Students, in general, don’t seem to be sufficiently motivated to learn how to use all of the powerful features available in the advanced search page of a particular vendor. They certainly won’t learn how to search a number of publisher’s applications, each with its own quirks. And, I would bet that most students don’t even know what resources are available to search individually.
Federated search comes along and promises to greatly simplify students’ lives. One search page. Looks a lot like Google. One results page. No need to know where the results came from. Students like it. But, librarians are concerned that students are missing the most relevant results. Are librarians right? If you read my article about the Brigham Young study you might begin to question that assumption. The more you learn about what factors influence the quality of search results the more you will realize that federated search can yield results that are better, as good as, or nearly as good as searching the sources directly.
I was disheartened to read what Lynn Lampert learned in a survey of hers related to attitudes and experiences related to federated search:
Lampert only got 33 responses, but a majority indicated they don’t teach federated searching, either because they do not have or no longer have a system in their library or have a system but choose not to include it in instruction. Librarians told Lampert that the loss of controlled vocabularies and specialized features of individual databases (such as the ability to limit a search to peer-reviewed journals) are a disservice to users and federated search systems “reinforce a Google-like approach to searching” that promotes poor search habits.
So, some of the libraries that have not removed federated search altogether just ignore it.
The blog post goes on to tell us that some of the students who do know about federated search may not want to change their searching habits, they may not see the benefits, or they might feel overwhelmed when they see too many search results.
As firm a believer as I am in the future of federated search I also acknowledge that it is an uphill battle. There must be a middle ground somewhere. Perhaps educating students on the pluses and minuses of different approaches to searching and then letting them make their own decisions would be valuable. Definitely identify the pitfalls of federated search. Tell them what they’re missing. But then let go. And, if a university or college is going to procure a federated search system, ask the “quality of results” questions up front.
Tags: federated search