Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Guide to the Enterprise Portal Solution, Part 4 (or, What is SingleSearch?)

EPS search box
SingleSearch is SirsiDynix's name for its federated search solution. Federated search, also often referred to by other terms such as metasearch or broadcast search, refers to the ability to search a variety of online information resources -- library catalogs, databases, digital collections, the Web -- with a single interface. The appeal of such an interface to library customers in our Googleized world is obvious. Many people appear to prefer a single blank search box -- in which they can enter their keywords, hit a button, and get satisfactory (if not perfect) results -- to learning the arcane jargon and syntax needed to successfully navigate our catalog and database interfaces. This isn't a preference for which we should blame our customers. As Calfornia Digital Libraries manager and Library Journal columnist Roy Tennant puts it: "Only librarians like to search; everyone else likes to find."

There are, however, some significant challenges to effective federated searching. One is the issue of duplication, when a search across several databases will pull up multiple instances of the same citation. Another is the issue of different resources having different search syntax (use of Boolean and proximity operators, truncation, wildcards, and so on). Response time is also an issue, as many libraries have found that federated searches take considerably longer than the "instant" results customers are accustomed to with Google. Finally, there is the question of how results are displayed. Library staff and customers are used to results being listed in the order of relevance, alphabetically, or chronologically, depending on the type of resource.

Various library technology vendors have been striving to meet these challenges over the last several years, and the rapidly changing status of the technology is reflected in SirsiDynix's recent decision to partner with Serials Solutions for their federated search solution (see yesterday's post). The challenges may never be completely surmounted, but the effort is worthwhile. Effective federated searching should not only save the time of the searcher, but may help library customers discover useful resources they might not have otherwise known about.

Next: What is Resolver?

For further reading:

Crawford, Walt. "The Crawford Files: Meta, federated, distributed: search solutions," American Libraries, August 2004.
Helfer, Doris Small, and Jina Choi Wakimoto. "Metasearching: the good, the bad, and the ugly of making it work in your library," Searcher, February 2005.
Luther, Judy. "Trumping Google? Metasearching's promise," Library Journal, October 1, 2003.

Image courtesy of SirsiDynix.


Doris Dixon said...

This is good news. Federated searching should encourage more use of the databases. I will be interested to see what the result page looks like. Will at home customers be able to search library-only databases?

Alan Stewart said...

Thanks for the comment, Doris. Our implementation of federated search in the EPS will not have any effect on our licensing arrangements with database vendors, so I'm afraid that at-home customers will still be unable to access in-library-only databases.

We will be able to choose which databases to include in the SingleSearch interface, and I expect that those with more restrictions on usage will not be included.