After the dust settled for Ken Varnum I had the opportunity to interview him about winning the top prize in this year’s Federated Search Blog contest.
- How did you hear about the Federated Search Blog contest?
I saw it mentioned on a listserv I subscribe to (web4lib, I think). I remember seeing the contest advertised last year, as well, although I did not enter it then.
- What inspired you to enter the contest?
I had been thinking about the ‘problem’ of federated search for some time and had already started a project at the University of Michigan Library that was somewhat narrower than what was described in the “Project Lefty” essay I submitted. I was frankly curious if the ideas I had been working on for some time had any resonance outside my library and, if so, what sort of feedback I might receive.
- How much experience have you had with federated search?
In my job, I manage the group that runs the library’s federated search product, Ex Libris’ Metalib. Since mid-2009, I had been working with a developer to make use of Metalib’s and Serials Solutions Summon’s API to build a prototype that would match knowledge about the user (course registration data, for example) with librarian knowledge about journals and databases to provide better search results.
- How long did it take you to write your winning essay?
I spent a few evenings over the course of a week working on the essay.
- What did you think your chances were of being picked as the top winner?
I actually thought they were fairly low (just good enough to make submitting an essay worthwhile). I was very surprised when I received word that I had won.
- How have your family and coworkers responded to your fame?
The response was quite enthusiastic — and once I could share the essay, non-colleagues had a much better idea what it was I’ve been going on about for the past months.
- What was it like being on that panel at the CIL Conference?
Being part of the panel was a lot of fun. I knew Jeff Wisniewski from other conferences and have learned a great deal from his presentations on library technology. The project described by Athena Hoeppner and Joshua Greben of the University of Central Florida Libraries was also quite interesting to me. Joshua and I had a good conversation about our projects after the session.
- What do you think are the major challenges for the federated search industry?
Information seekers expect to be able to find the right document to suit their immediate need and have decreasing patience for the multiple interfaces and query structures the information world provides. With that in mind, I think the biggest challenge for the industry is fulfilling the ultimate vision of federated search — fast, relevance-based retrieval of full-text data across multiple silos.
- Is there a question you wish I had asked?
Is the prototype you’re working on available to the public? Not yet because we’re still developing it internally. We plan to make the prototype interface I described in my talk available, perhaps this fall if all goes well.
Tags: federated search