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Carl Grant recently published an article, Are librarians choosing to disappear from the information & knowledge delivery process?, at the CARE Affiliates Blog. It reads in part:

As librarians, we frequently strive to connect users to information as seamlessly as possible. A group of librarians said to me recently: “As librarian intermediation becomes less visible to our users/members, it seems less likely it is that our work will be recognized. How do we keep from becoming victims of our own success?”

This is certainly not an uncommon question or concern. As our library collections have become virtual and as we increasingly stop housing the collections we offer, there is a tendency to see us as intermediaries serving as little more than pipelines to our members. We have to think about where we’re adding value to that information so that when delivered to the user/member that value is recognized. Then we need to make that value part of our brand. Otherwise, as stated by this concern, librarians become invisible and that seems to be an almost assured way to make sure our funding does the same. As evidenced by this recently updated chart on the Association of Research Libraries website, this seems to be the track we are on currently:

The chart is not pretty if you’re a librarian trying to justify your existence. But, on a positive note, after you’ve gotten past the depressing chart Carl Grant lists seven suggestions for products the library world should be providing to patrons.

I recommend this article as a sobering read with a positive spin.


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.

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I so much enjoy Carl Grant’s writings. Last month I got to meet Carl in person at the Enterprise Search Summit conference where I led a panel on federated search that he was a member of. I have to say I enjoy Carl in person every bit as much as I do via email and phone. And, we had a great dinner at a Cuban restaurant in San Jose.

A few weeks ago Carl authored an article at the ExLibris Blog: Another facet of the “library bypass strategies.” Here’s a piece of it.

[A concern] is in the area of e-content and discovery products which are being offered to the library marketplace. Increasingly, these are offered as pre-packaged solutions with a discovery interface and with databases from a select number of organizations. But there are some real differences in the offerings and librarians need to be careful how they select and implement this technology.

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[ Editor’s note: In this guest article, Carl Grant adds his contribution to the discussion I started in Beyond Federated Search? and continued in Beyond federated search? The conversation continues. Be sure to read those two articles before reading Carl’s response. Also, check out the comments on the two articles.

Carl Grant is President of Ex Libris North America. With more than a quarter century of experience in the library-automation industry, I’m grateful for his periodic and very popular contributions to this blog. ]

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[ Editor’s note: Carl Grant presents his views on how the economic downturn may affect federated search vendors and customers this year. Carl’s forward-looking article is a nice complement to Abe’s looking-back review of 2008.

Carl Grant is President of Ex Libris North America. With more than a quarter century of experience in the library-automation industry, I’m grateful for his periodic and very popular contributions to this blog. ]

Searching for answers about metasearch in 2009

As Yogi Berra once said “The future ain’t what it used to be” and there is hardly a more apt description of what the metasearch business and many others are facing in 2009.

Obviously, much of the world has been turned on its ear over the past few months. Future plans, once elaborately developed, budgeted for and in place, have now been shelved. In their place new plans being developed, include words like “contingency,” “possible scenarios” and “emergency.” The reality is that these new plans bear only a faint resemblance to those they replaced.

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[ Editor’s note: Is metasearch a bad idea? If, after reading this article by Carl Grant, you still think it is, send me your rebuttal. If it’s well written – whether or not I agree with it – I’ll publish it.

Carl Grant is President of Ex Libris North America. With more than a quarter century of experience in the library-automation industry, I’m grateful for his periodic articles in this blog. ]

“We don’t really need metasearch…” is a phrase I’ve heard several times lately and I have to admit it that has the same effect on me as fingernails being dragged across a blackboard. That’s because this position implies:

  • The user’s ease-of-use in accessing and discovering (particularly new) resources is a low priority at your organization.

  • You believe a user should talk to you (a trained searcher or librarian) before trying to access resources so that you can question them and direct them to the best resource for their need.

  • You believe the functionality obtained by using the custom interface written for a particular database is so important that you discount the useful results that the metasearch engine delivers for that database.

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[ Editor’s note: A few weeks ago I asked Carl Grant if he’d be willing to write a regular column for this blog. He agreed in principle while expressing the concern that his new responsibilities as President of Ex Libris North America might make it difficult to commit to a schedule. So, I took the pressure off of Carl by inviting him to write when he was able to and not worry about a schedule. Not too long after that conversation I received an email from Carl with the article below.

As usual, Carl doesn’t mince words in this article. He bluntly asks librarians to assert and uphold the value they provide to their patrons by demanding functionality from their federated search vendors that “feature[s] the added value of librarianship.” ]

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[ Editor’s note: Once upon a time, when I was doing much more software development than I am doing today, I found myself with a project where I had to deal with the differences between SRU and SRW. The world of web services and their related standards was quite mysterious to me at the time. Carl Grant, President of CARE Affiliates, reviews an essay in Christopher Cox’s book about federated search that discusses these two standards in the context of a number of standards of interest to the federated search and library community. While you’ll need to read the actual essay to understand the standards, Carl Grant does a fine job of reviewing how the chapter treats SRU, in particular.

Given the quality of the essays in Mr. Cox’s book plus the severe lack of any books related to federated search, I highly recommend the book. You can purchase a copy of Mr. Cox’s book of essays from the publisher, Taylor & Francis, who donated the review copies, by calling their Customer Service department, Monday-Friday 9 A.M. – 5 P.M. EDT, at (800) 634-7064.

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[ Editor’s note: Carl Grant, President of CARE Affiliates, was one of the volunteers who took me up on my offer to review several chapters of Christopher Cox’s book about federated search. Following is his review of one of the chapters: “Developing the Right RFP for Selecting Your Federated Search Product: Lessons Learned and Tips from Recent Experience” by Jerry Caswell and John Wynstra.

I appreciate that this review comes from a seasoned federated search vendor; Carl Grant has been in the library automation industry for a long time and raises an important concern about the RFP process, how his experience is that the current RFP model doesn’t really serve the customer or vendor, and he touches on what he sees as a better approach.

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