Federated Library Searches: A New World Order, Literally
posted by Dan Filler
One of the great pleasures of being part of Drexel Law’s start-up is hearing various librarian candidate job talks. The other day I attended a talk by a candidate for acquisitions librarian, and in the course of the presentation I came upon one of those “this is so obvious, why haven’t I thought about it before” moments. It was all about federated searches.
As any active consumer of academic libraries knows, a fast growing portion of the collection is now in digital format. There are e-books, digitized texts that can be viewed online from your desk. There are digitized government documents. And of course there are the digitized journals. Yet right now, despite the fact that significant portions of the overall collection are digitized (with the striking exception of monographs), we still follow the same search silos as before. Want to find an article? You have to find the right database to search. Want a book? Forget whole text search (except perhaps on Amazon or Google.) Search the card catalog. Government docs? I don’t know how you search them!
But as a library’s collection of digitized material grows, it will soon be possible conduct a single search that surveys the entire library collection. These federated searches will help prevent the all-too-familiar phenomenon of missing that key article or book – often from another discipline – which was exactly what you needed for your project. It will also make it far easier for law review authors to meet the tedious demand that every claim, no matter how small, be footnoted.
I look forward to a time when comprehensive research is easier. But these searches will have broader implications. Once digital journals are lumped together with hard copy journals for research purposes – something that has not happened in law, at least – it may cause many law schools to move their secondary journals into digital-only format. And a move to digital-only will make it cheaper for law schools to add new secondary journals (and thus offer more students a journal experience.) Of course, it will continue to be difficult or these journals to find quality content.
There may also be a temptation to extend the scope of these search engines, wrapping other internet material into the searched databases. If these searches include the entire web, perhaps via google, they may produce too much material to be useful. But perhaps librarians will now band together to create a sub-category of freely available web resources that might be tracked by these new search engines. This would be a perfect consortium project. I wonder if Wikipedia will make the cut?