Carl Grant just published a thought provoking piece at his ExLibris blog: Discovering the need for discovery solutions that also support meta/federated searching. Like all of Carl’s articles, this one is worth a careful read.
Carl argues that the limitations of federated search don’t make the technology useless in the face of discovery services. He sees both technologies as having an important role in the library and, in fact, his company, ExLibris, sells both types of technology.
Here’s the gist of Carl’s argument that libraries need both solutions:
My answer would be that most libraries likely need both of these solutions because they ultimately meet different end-user needs. Both are discovery tools, but they meet the needs of end-users in different ways and deliver different capabilities.
For example, an undergraduate needing to assemble a paper quickly might well benefit from a search of a mega-aggregate index that quickly produces several results that can be used interchangeably. However, the student or researcher conducting deep research into a subject will likely want to know not only everything available from known resources, but also from unknown resources. Then the need for meta/federated searching becomes more important because it will very likely broaden the content they can find. Understanding these two divergent set of needs require the library to offer different tools within the common discovery interface.
I’ve long argued that a major problem with discovery services is that they likely won’t include all of the sources a library deems worthy of providing access to. Carl articulated this point better than I could have in terms of the “long tail” of resources, i.e. those resources that are important to people doing very specialized research but not of interest to those conducting more broad research. Here’s his quote:
Meta/federated search tools enable libraries to expand access to include more of the library resources as well as other types of resources. For instance, they’ll help address the “long tail” of resources and making them available to end-users. As described in the concept of the “long tail” not all resources are in high enough demand to justify their inclusion in a resource designed to address the masses (the mega-aggregate index in this case), but that doesn’t make them any less important to end-users who would value their content. Finally, we must remember that we’re in a time of rapidly growing number of resources composed of radically different data types. Meta/federated search are likely to greatly increase the probability that libraries will be able to search these resources as well. All of this taken together will help researchers discover for themselves that “serendipity” experience of finding results where they did not expect and providing them with greater value as a result of using the library discovery tools.
As an aside, the article Carl cites about the “long tail” is the best I’ve ever read.
I won’t quote Carl’s entire article. Read it for yourself and see if you still (if you ever did) really believe that discovery services are the Holy Grail of user search.
Tags: federated search