A statement in a blog post at Science Library Pad caught my attention. The post, titled “availability, discovery, and delivery – redux,” focuses on the question of how well researchers are able to access the full text of documents they find in search results. The author sees this as a major problem and makes this attention-getting statement:
I’m not convinced that we’re doing a particularly good job of addressing these fundamental challenges even after years of working on proxies, federated search, link resolvers, and “live in your environment” plugins and external website settings.
For those who aren’t familiar with proxies, I wrote about proxy servers and federated search in February. Link resolvers, also called URL resolvers, are worth dedicating an entire post to but here’s the gist of what they do: When a user performs a search, sees a result list, and clicks on a result to view a scholarly article, the URL that the user is sent to when he clicks on the link is intercepted by the federated search application and possibly replaced with a link to a version of the document that the library has licensed rather than the original “for pay” link.
My interest has been in technologies for bringing users and content closer together. I hadn’t considered the possibility that these technologies aren’t working well enough. Of course, there could be other factors in play that are not about the technologies. And, the author’s statement is just one data point plus the author does qualify his view with “I’m not convinced” which does allow for the possibility that his experience isn’t universal.
One issue I’m aware of regarding delivery, is that some sources just don’t provide links to documents in their search results, as odd as that may seem. I can see that this would frustrate users. I suppose that link resolvers could get smarter in such cases; ideally, though, the content provider would fix this at their end.
The blog post also got me thinking about how I’ve gotten hooked into the mindset that everything on the Internet should be free. I am reluctant to pay for information on the Internet even though there is plenty of high quality content worth paying for. It’s the same mindset that leads me to not having cable television – TV should be free, right? And, I certainly don’t expect to pay for content from my local library. So, I’m wondering if some researchers’ experiences aren’t tainted with bad feelings about being asked to pay for an article because there just isn’t a licensed copy available.
The post makes the distinction between discovery and delivery. Discovery is about making sure that researchers can identify relevant documents. Delivery is about getting them the full text of those documents. Which should libraries focus on first, discovery or delivery? Which is harder to do? The author believes delivery should come first and that discovery is harder to do.
While the issues raised at Science Library Pad are not flagged as federated search issues, federated search environments are where these issues are going to be noticed most prominently because federated search engines have to contend with content originating from a number of different sources, with different access and authentication methods for content depending on the source.
I’m interested to hear from the library community. Does federated search get you and your users to the most appropriate source of content most of the time? Does it first get you to content that your institution has licensed? Does it then point you to a free copy elsewhere if a licensed version isn’t available and a free one happens to be found? Does it send you to a “for pay” copy as a last resort?
Tags: federated search