Monday, December 22, 2008

Federated Search Vs. Metasearch Engines

A federated search engine enables the user to search through multiple databases put together by the content provider (eg: Ebsco, Proquest or Google Scholar). All information that will be searched is integrated into one repository. Federated search is complex software. All sources added to it should be available at all times and of course users expect it to be fast like Google. Any rotten link is a disappointment for the users.

In a federated search, (like Google Scholar) someone has already put together databases from which you can get a response in unified format. Does this person who puts these databases together know for sure that these are the only databases (or sources) to be searched on this subject? May be the user wants to search across many disciplines to find an answer to his/her query. In this case, the federated search is restrictive. Many have called it a dumbing down search – making it too easy for the user. But still, users would have to be creative with search terms, know their subject headings, know their databases and to a large extent have some computer literacy skills. Database vendors offer federated search that allows users to search across all their databases (subscribed ones).

WorldCat is another example of federated search. A federated search is a way to harness the larger WWW. Google Co-op is also an example of how anyone can create their own limited search with pre-prescribed search engines or websites.

With Metasearch Engine users can submit a question to many information resources simultaneously – not just the chosen ones. Information is not integrated and is processed only when the user types a query. It is also known as cross searching (of databases), integrated searching, multiple database searching, parallel searching, etc. As it contains numerous sources to search from, a broken link will not be too much of a disappointment to the user.

Also, in metasearch search, content is fresh. Sources are added and searched everyday. In a federated search, the content provider has to find sources to add so information may be delayed.

Underestimated Librarians

I don’t think people in other professions have to explain themselves or their jobs as much as librarians do. First of all I find myself explaining to commoners that I have been to library school and received a special degree to be where I am and that is why I am called a “Librarian.”

When I tell people I am a librarian, they imagine me behind a desk signing out books. Helloooo… how long has it been since you went to a library? Do you see the other things that go on around there – like the library website which usually contains a wealth of information and is kept up-to-date, computer classes that are taught for free, displays that help you find THE book about something you might love but have never heard of before, librarians answering questions that could be from anyone about anything, and so much more? Well, librarians play a big role in all that. It takes time to collect information, to arrange for classes, to teach classes, to select and buy books, to order microfilms, videos, to put up displays, answer questions, evaluate and buy databases, constantly fill in the gaps in the huge collection and all the other things that come our way. We also take care of business side of things – like bargaining for the best databases from vendors. Then there is supervison of staff, administrative duties such as work schedules, payroll, etc and most importantly Outreach and Partnerships with organizations in the community. Now that is not easy work is it?

An acquaintance was chatting with me one evening. She asked me what exactly I do as a librarian & I explained all of the above to her. She was quite shocked and actually said to me: “I thought you just sign out books.” She seemed genuinely shocked that other things happen at a library and she is a well qualified computer professional!!