Federated Searching: Do Undergraduates Prefer It and Does it Add Value? (Contributed Paper)

Jeffrey Belliston and Jared Howland from Brigham Young University shared initial results from their research on undergraduates' use of a federated search tool at BYU. I applaud them for making this session interactive. I think they distributed around 100 clickers to the audience prior to the session beginning. We were asked to vote on our opinion of federated search, if we had a tool deployed locally, and what we thought their results might show. It was a great way to get everyone focused at 8 a.m on a Saturday morning. I was sitting with librarians from Maryland and Massachusetts and we shared a clicker. It was fun.

Jeffrey and Jared developed a search problem and had students at three different BYU campuses (Utah, Hawaii, and Idaho) find information using regular A&I databases and BYU's federated search tool. They wanted to know if federated search saved students time and if students preferred federated searching over traditional A&I database searching. Iris has a written a more descriptive post of this session. Jeffrey and Jared indicated that they are writing a paper for publication based on their research and are still analyzing data.

The initial outcomes from their research are what you expect. In general, federated searching saved time (roughly 10% for the students in Utah) and they preferred using federated searching (70%) over traditional A&I databases. The data is different for each campus, which could be related to how the search tool has been customized and implemented locally on each campus. Their research was also focused on one discipline, biology, and other disciplines may experience other results.

Our students and faculty at Muskingum College heavily use OhioLINK's federated search tool (Metalib).  Since August 28, 2006, the beginning of our Fall semester, there have been 10,740 searches executed. Our campus is currently ranked 12th (behind Bowling Green State University, ahead of Ohio University) in usage from August 28. This is attributable to having the federated search box front and center on our web site.

I know some librarians believe we do our students a disservice by providing federated searching. I believe that it is better to give them a "Google like" tool so that they can find quality articles from journals and magazines vs. the questionable content on the open web. This is especially necessary when many of our students wait until the last possible attosecond to start their research and tend to take the path of least resistance to full-text.

What do you think? Is federated search a necessary evil?  Have you had good experiences or bad experiences? Do you teach it during instruction? 

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