Do you remember the days when, if you opened a savings account at your local bank, they gave you a toaster? (Or, as the joke went during the painful times the savings and loan industry endured — “Buy a toaster, get a free savings and loan!”) Well, in today’s mail I got a much more enticing offer (since I don’t eat toast very often) - support your Alma Mater (Stanford University - I attended for several years but left for personal reasons and did not receive a degree) and get “Free online access to thousands of newspapers, magazines, professional and scientific journals, and trade publications.” While I need to disclose that Stanford has announced that it is partnering with this blog’s sponsor Deep Web Technologies to deploy a federated search solution for the Stanford University Libraries, this article has nothing to do with this partnership.

This is the first time I’ve heard of any membership organization that’s not directly in the business of providing access to content offering federated search as a benefit. Stanford, of course, is well positioned to offer this benefit since it is a top research university with access to a large number of scholarly and other sources, thus it already has a number of established relationships with content providers.

So, what sources is the Stanford Alumni Association providing access to? Take a look at their library access page. I don’t want to tease you too much (since many of you didn’t attend Stanford) but there are four information products included:

  • ABI/INFORM (ProQuest)
  • Business Source Alumni Edition (EBSCO)
  • Dow Jones Factiva
  • EBSCO Academic Alumni Edition

Publications accessible from the four information products include the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Barron’s, The Economist, Reuters Health, Fortune, Business Week, Columbia Journalism Review, US News & World Report, and many, many other sources. Note that full text is not available for every source - some provide only abstracts - but it is available from a large number of them.

It’s very interesting that the content providers would open up access to a potentially large number of new users for possibly not much money. The Stanford Alumni Association charges $75 per year for membership; I have no idea how much of that might go to the publishers. Perhaps the publishers are interested in increasing visibility, or perhaps they hope to sell more paid content to users of the service who want full text of some abstracts.

A concern that I have with this offering is the labor involved in supporting it. While the brochure announcing the service does provide phone numbers for the content providers, some users will inevitably call Stanford first with search-related questions. And, Stanford will have to handle membership and user login/password issues. Aside from the effort involved in supporting the service I think it’s a brilliant strategic move on Stanford’s part as it speaks to Stanford providing its alumni with very valuable benefits.

A second concern I have, and only time and experience will tell me if it’s valid, is with exceeding limits on the number of simultaneous queries. Stanford’s alumni library access page includes this FAQ item which raised my concern:

  • When I try to access Dow Jones Factiva I get the error message: “The User ID is already in use”?

SAA has a limited number of access seats for this particular database.
If you are unable to gain access, please wait for a few minutes and then try again.

Concerns aside, this is quite an impressive offering. I’d be very interested in hearing of other similar offers and of your experiences with them. I guess it’s time for me to renew my Stanford Alumni Association membership.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008 at 7:44 pm and is filed under viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or TrackBack URI from your own site.

One Response to "Free federated search: membership has its benefits"

  1. 1 Peter Murray
    July 16th, 2008 at 8:04 pm  

    I also find it interesting that, apparently for a one-time payment of $650, one can subscribe to the databases as a Lifetime Friend-of-Stanford member with no requirement for a previous or current association with Stanford. Based on the description of the alumni association’s membership categories, I’m hard pressed to come to a different conclusion.

    It sort of makes me wonder if this is something Stanford is authorized to do…

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