[ 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.

Now, every organization should, and indeed must, try to interpret the needs of their users and to conduct their operation of the organization in the manner that will meet those needs. But, this approach seems to me to ignore a whole host of research, data and experts who have thoroughly documented what users want out of their libraries today.

For example, one of the best pieces of research done on libraries and the environment in which they function is The OCLC Environmental Scan: Pattern Recognition. OCLC reported the following issues being raised in surveys and interviews they conducted as the basis for the report:

  1. “E-learning…(is) one of the disruptive innovations in education. It now has a presence in most large corporations and in an ever-increasing number of college and university courses.” More important is what OCLC says here: “Universities have had a difficult time making distance education cost-effective and pedagogically effective because they usually tried to deliver traditional courses via a non-traditional medium.” I highlight this because I believe this is exactly what libraries are doing in similar environments when they fail to offer metasearch/discovery tools. When the librarian is not there to help the user discover a database that might contain what they need, they are failing to deliver service to their users. Metasearching is a discovery tool that can be used anywhere. It should be offered as such.

  2. In the description of Library Landscape for libraries, OCLC noted (in italics):

    a. “There is demand for 24/7 access to the physical library as well as the virtual one…” Of course metasearch/discovery tools are readily made available across the web and would help any library to be available, even if their facility and librarians are not available.

    b. “Access is a form of sustainability. Content that can be accessed is valued and is more likely to be sustained by the community.” This is an incredibly important point for all librarians. Requiring users to come to the library or to the librarians will undermine the future of the library. Metasearch/discovery tools help solve this problem.

    c. “We need to stop looking at things from a library point of view and focus on the user’s point of view.” Amen.

    d. “A common interface to content is not a big deal anymore.” Remember, this is a user point of view. Consider that and remember point c above.

    e. “There is a high level of satisfaction with self-service applications in libraries.” I’ve written in my blog about this before, but I continue to be amazed that libraries don’t expand self-service options for users. Certainly, putting up a good metasearch/discovery application is one very viable way to do this.

    f. “Use drives selection—convenience is more important than it was.” If we’re forcing users to learn new search interfaces, conduct the same search in multiple databases and consult with a librarian, are we really making it convenient for them?!?!?

    g. “We need a way to bring together all content on a topic, not just what’s in the catalog.“ Indeed, and this is exactly what a metasearch/discovery application can facilitate.

Those points alone underscore for me that libraries need applications like metasearch and/or discovery applications. So do the experts. For example, often quoted, Roy Tennant gave a presentation entitled Searching; The good, the bad and the ugly. It contained this list of “Content Discovery Principles”:

a. “Only librarians like to search, everyone else prefers to find.”

b. “One place to search is better than two.”

c. “Good enough is just that.”

Along with the above, he provided a very important “Integration Principle:”

a. “If you can’t centralize metadata, centralize searching”

I couldn’t agree more with Roy and only wish more librarians were reading all this research and listening to all the experts describing what would make libraries more meaningful for users. The depressing part of the research done by OCLC in their Environmental Scan is that it was published in 2003 – nearly six years ago, and it’s as accurate today as it was the day it was published. Libraries’ continued failure to listen to their users is why we find libraries having their existence described as insignificant beyond the date 2019 on the extinction timeline. We don’t really need metasearch? Really? You’re sure about that?

[ If you enjoyed this article, you may also like We librarians need to remember what our value is in providing metasearching…. ]

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This entry was posted on Monday, October 27th, 2008 at 9:26 am and is filed under carl grant, 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.

2 Responses so far to "We don’t really need metasearch…"

  1. 1 Liliana
    November 19th, 2008 at 4:26 am  

    Hi Carl,
    that’s a very nice and “to the point” analysis. I think I will cite some of that in my future presentations and talks if you don’t mind.

  2. 2 Sol
    November 20th, 2008 at 11:19 am  

    Hi Liliana,

    I can’t imagine Carl minding as long as you give him credit.


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