Archive for April, 2010


When I think of real-time search and automated retrieval I think of a federated search solution. Well, here’s a different kind of such a system. Evanced Solutions has built a robot (yes, an actual physical robot) that works like those in manufacturing plants. (No, the robot doesn’t look like the image here. This image is from the Wikipedia robot article.)

The U.S. designed and manufactured system allows libraries to provide books and audiovisual materials in convenient locations without the space and cost associated with constructing a traditional library branch or building.

The new library vending system will be powered by an industrial multi-axis robot typically used in manufacturing plants. The robot will deliver library materials to patrons from storage shelves in the machine. It also re-shelves those same materials to the machine when returned by the patron for check-out by the next person.

The press release, Robot Extends Library Services, says the prototype of its new BranchAnywhere library vending system was to be unveiled last month at the Public Library Association Conference in Portland, Oregon.

A hat tip goes to Stan at the Library Blog Buzz.


Helen Mitchell, enterprise search consultant and one of our volunteer judges for this year’s Federated Search Blog contest, will be teaching a one-day course at SLA in New Orleans in June. Mitchell has over 30 years of experience in enterprise search. See her bio in this article (third one down.)

The course is divided into a morning and an afternoon piece. There’s a substantial discount for signing up for both parts.

Here are the descriptions for the two parts of the course:

Federated Search, Part 1: Evaluation and Assessment Methodology for Success
Saturday, 06/12/2010 8:00AM -12:00PM

In this age of “information explosion,” quickly finding the most relevant information is a huge challenge for information professionals (IPs). With a tidal wave of information technologies to choose from, IPs often lack the expertise to select the best solution to increase content findability. Consider a federated search (FS) system that can quickly search your subscription databases and unstructured content sources. Learn a methodology to evaluate, select, develop and implement the right FS solution for your organization. This can improve support of your mission, vision and goals.

Federated Search, Part 2: Selecting and Implementing an Effective Solution
Saturday, 06/12/2010 1:00PM - 5:00PM

Current and emerging search technologies can foster information sharing, collaboration, networking and feedback. Finding the most relevant information in a timely manner challenges information professionals because they don’t have an effective enterprise-wide federated search (FS) solution. If you want a better understanding of what federated search is, how to collect these specialized requirements, develop a “Request for Info” (RFI) and a “Request for Proposal” (RFP) and learn how to evaluate federated search products to meet your organizational needs, this course is for you!

Course price and registration information is here. SLA price and registration information is here.


Wally Grotophorst, Digital Programs and Systems librarian at George Mason University and customer of this blog’s sponsor Deep Web Technologies, gave the publicly searchable Summon deployment at Dartmouth College a test drive. (Note that while anyone can search and view result meta data, full-text access to documents is restricted to the Dartmouth community. Grotophorst, however, was able to access full-text because his university’s subscriptions overlap with Dartmouth’s.)

I want to highlight a few of Grotophorst’s insights.

Have you heard the old adage “cheap, fast, or good - pick two?” I’ve heard it in the context of building software systems. If you can build something inexpensively, quickly, and with high quality you can’t get all three at the same time. As an example, if you want to build a major system quickly and you want it to work really well then it won’t be cheap. Grotophorst applies this idea of tradeoffs to search.

If you’ve ever looked into digital storage solutions, you’ve probably heard that you can achieve any two of these three attributes: speed, reliability or economy. Build a system that’s fast and reliable and it won’t be inexpensive. Develop a reliable but inexpensive solution and you’ll sacrifice performance. … Web-based searching’s not all that different, you have to balance a set of sometimes conflicting attributes.

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State Farm Insurance Librarian Adam Bennington has a fun yet serious article in this month’s Searcher Magazine. The article, A Practical Guide to Coping With Reference Anxiety Disorder, brings hope to information professionals everywhere. Bennington explains the cause of RAD:

When the searcher can’t uncover the answer, feelings of guilt, shame, and doubt in his or her professional worth can grow acute, especially in newly minted information professionals.

Bennington asks us to consider that since “studies have been published on the pressure produced when penguins poop,” that your client’s reasonable sounding question can’t be new. There must be an answer somewhere and you should be able to find it.

While I read and write a lot about searching, my bias is that, given a large enough pile of federated and other search tools, every “reasonable” question must have an answer somewhere on the Web. I’ve never considered the existence of an alternate reality where intelligent questions don’t have answers.

Now here’s an interesting question that really does have an answer. If you’re a research professional, or even if you’re not, how do you know when it’s time to stop searching? I won’t give anything away but I’ll tell you that Bennington, in his article, gives six signs to look for that tell you you’re thrashing. Can you guess what they are, or can you come up with some of your own?

Leave comments here and, if you have a copy of this month’s Searcher, don’t give away the answers!


Yes, this is an off-topic post. I’m entitled to do that occasionally.

This post in ars technica got my attention: Library of Congress: We’re archiving every tweet ever made.

Get ready for fame, tweeters of the world: the Library of Congress is archiving for posterity every public tweet made since the service went live back in 2006. Every. Single. Tweet.

The LOC announced the news, appropriately enough, on Twitter. Twitter isn’t just about being pretentious and notifying the world about the contents of your lunch (though it’s about those things too).


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Ken Varnum, Web Systems Manager at the University of Michigan Library, won first prize of $1,000 in the second annual Federated Search Blog contest. Ken’s essay, Project Lefty: More Bang for the Search Query, was judged best by the five federated search experts who evaluated the entries. His essay is featured in this month’s Computers in Libraries Magazine. As another perq of winning top prize, Ken was a speaker today at the Computers in Libraries Conference, on the panel: Innovative Applications of Federated Search Technology.

Deep Web Technologies, blog and contest sponsor, paid for Ken’s travel and lodging expenses to the conference. Deep Web Technologies founder and President, Abe Lederman, handed Ken a $1,000 check at the Conference this afternoon. Deep Web Technologies also gave prizes of $500 and $250 to Hope Leman and Dave Walker, the second and third place winners.

More information about Ken’s winning entry and the contest is available in Deep Web Technologies’ Press Release. [ Note: There's an error in the Press Release. Ken's essay really appears in Computers in Libraries magazine, not in Searcher magazine. I wrote the Press Release and I regret the error. ]

Update, 4/14/10: Ken’s slides from the panel are here.


I enjoyed this article in the “federated-search-is-not-dead” department. The article, Is ECM Going The Way Of The Dodo? Or Maybe The Way Of The Intranet?, ponders the future of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems. The article’s author, Sean Nicholson, cites a prediction:

1) Enterprise Content Management and Document Management will go their separate ways
ECM as a marketing and technical concept has great validity. But the idea of having a single overarching platform to manage all sources of content management only works well in those enterprises that follow a unified and services-oriented architectural approach to IT.

Nicholson argues that obstacles such as needing to pick a single vendor or comprehensive service-oriented architecture will drive many organizations away from an ECM solution. This bodes well for federated search systems that can dig into multiple databases and information systems and bring back relevant information. Nicholson further predicts that “federated search will become crucial to organizations that choose not to implement a structured ECM architecture.” And, he raises the question we should all be pondering:

Will better federated search technologies negate the need for a central repository?

I hope so.


[ Editor's note: This article first appeared in the OSTI Blog. Dr. Walt Warnick, Director of the Office of Scientific and Technical Information, part of DOE, and I co-authored the article. This is a visionary piece. It addresses the question of what it would take for federated search to get to "Google speed." You may agree with our conclusion. Or, you may not. In either case, we hope you enjoy the ride! ]

Many casual users of federated search criticize the technology for being slow to retrieve results. Serious researchers recognize the unique ability of federated search engines to mine the deep Web for quality science information that Google cannot find. These users recognize that there is no practical alternative to federated search for the best information. Still, everyone wants everything faster, and those users who are willing to trade quality for quickness focus on how federated search doesn’t return results in “Google time.”

OSTI begins to address the speed issue by displaying some results as soon as they are available. However, this approach causes results to be delivered in two sequential sets, which many users find less than ideal.

The good news for federated search users is that speed is not an insurmountable issue because technology is closing in on the speed gap.

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Thursday, April 1st. This morning the international federated search watch group, Federation is Bad (FIB), released its findings of a comprehensive 20-year study of student perceptions of federated search. The news isn’t good. The study followed the federated search habits of 7 undergraduates who each spent 20 years (or longer) in one of a dozen American universities. While the test subjects initially liked federated search (during their first few years as freshmen) by years 18 and 19, they didn’t care much for the technology.

Immediately following the dismaying news, a new international federated search watch group, Federation is Good (FIG), was formed to contest the findings of FIB. FIG challenged the FIB findings on a couple of fronts. “FIB’s findings are nowhere near statistically significant and their results are not at all relevant,” claimed FIG spokeswoman Mata Serge. “They only included 7 [expletive deleted] students in their cheesy study,” noted Serge. “And, most students finish their undergraduate work in 8 or 10 years, not 20. Their study is seriously flawed.”

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