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FEAR AND LOATHING OF IMPLEMENTATION:Examining the Instructional Issues Surrounding the Rise of Federated Searching

Lynn D. Lampert, MLIS, MACoordinator of Library Instruction & Information LiteracyCalifornia State University Northridgepresented at the California Clearinghouse for Library Instruction’s Spring Workshop: Challenges to Instruction in the Age of Federated Searching and GoogleMay 12th, 2006 - Menlo College

why fear and loathing
Why “fear” AND “loathing”?

“Paranoia is just another word for ignorance of technology ?;)”Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-crossed Child in theFinal Days of the American Century (2004) “…That's the common delusion of undergraduates everywhere. They think that in using Google, they're getting relevant materials and a sufficiency of relevant materials to write papers and to do research--and it's simply not true.” ALA President Michael Gorman – “One College Librarian Worries About 'Atomizing' Books” ….Source: Chronicle of Higher Education; 6/3/2005, Vol. 51 Issue 39, pA25-A25, 2/3p, 1c

google federated search user perceptions of libraries information resources
Google, Federated Search & User Perceptions of Libraries & Information Resources

Success of metasearch and federated search is often spoken about as if it is tied to libraries’ collective futures. Federated search is seen as pivotal and with it we are being judged on, “Our ability to meet the expectations and needs of ‘the Google Generation’” (Luther, 2003).Yet the public still largely sees libraries as linked to dusty books…old fashioned and not keeping up.OCLC. (2006). Perceptions of libraries and information resources: A report to the OCLC membershipRetrieved May 2, 2006, from

Source: OCLC. (2006). Perceptions of libraries and information resources: A report to the OCLC membership. Retrieved May 2, 2006, from

perceptions of libraries and information resources a report to the oclc membership
Perceptions of libraries and information resources: A report to the OCLC membership.
  • Most information consumers are not aware of, nor do they use, most libraries’ electronic information resources.
  • 62% of the college students surveyed are aware that libraries have databases, but 31% are still not sure.
  • 84% total use search engines to begin an information search.
  • 90% of respondents were satisfied with their search engine search results.Source: OCLC. (2006). Perceptions of libraries and information resources: A report to the OCLC membership. Retrieved May 2, 2006, from
Topic: and the Socialization of the WebImplications for libraries discussed by Dr. Noshir Contractor, University of Illinois Urbana ChampaignThe way people interact, access, and share information is changing…friending, smart-mobbing, changing content creation and theway we think about curating content are all different.

Some of the opportunities and challenges for traditional librarians are the changing taxonomies we are seeing [higher education]…a massive departure from pre-organized taxonomies & classifications of books & old search engines to the technology getting and giving students the ability to shape information organically into folksonomies (not passive web sites).

Students “tag” information like they tag bands, activities, people(social tags).Accessed from “” 5/9/2006.

examining the trends more closely and thinking about our fledgling federated search pilots
Examining the trends more closely and thinking about our fledgling federated search pilots
  • OCLC respondents to the survey generally seem to choose electronic resources in the same ways they choose other types of information resources.
  • 61% identify friends as their top choice in identifying new electronic resources to use.
  • <15% of the respondents indicate that they discover new electronic resources from librarians or teachers.Source: OCLC. (2006). Perceptions of libraries and information resources: A report to the OCLC membership. Retrieved May 2, 2006, from
steven j bell submit or resist librarianship in the age of google
Steven J. Bell – “Submit or Resist: Librarianship in the Age of Google”

Googlelizing [our resources] will no doubt satiate the end user's need for an easy, convenient gateway to databases bloated with full text where there are no requirements for critical thinking or search preparation...But these strategies will ultimately fail if our mission is to triumph not over Google and search engines, but over the real obstacle we now confront as a profession--getting our end users to care about the quality of the information they obtain (Bell, 2005, 69-70).

Or are we competing to thrive as teachers within the shifting landscapes of users’ interest & information seeking behavior?
thinking deeply about the future
“Thinking Deeply about the Future”

Dr. Ilene Rockman Reference Services Review Vol. 31, No 1, 2003.

“When we examine the “metasearching” behavior of users, we know they prefer intuitive, clearly designed interfaces. Portals that are interactive and instructional are powerful learning tools. More importantly, if designed well, such portals can help the user spend less time searching for information, and more time evaluating its quality…This brings me to the point of reasserting the teachingrole of the librarian….the increasingly confusing roleof the Internet increases the valuable role that we playas information selectors, organizers and teachers. We must continue to firmly, consistently and creatively assert our expertise.”

emerging schools of thought within librarianship about federated searching products
Emerging Schools of Thought Within Librarianship about Federated Searching Products
  • One group admonishes that federated/metasearch technologies will further exacerbate students’ habitual pattern of not critically evaluating retrieved information.
  • The other group feels that this new way of packaging our full text resources is the best way to compete with Google and reach our newest generation of students - the millennials or “digital natives.” (Prensky, 2001)
  • The learning styles of millennials have triggered increased speculation about their impact on the future teaching role of librarians

Digital natives- “perceive technology as their friend and rely on it to study, work, play, relax and communicate” (Culligan 2005).

Digital immigrants- “are those who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later part in our lives become fascinated by and adopted many aspects of the new technologies” (Prensky, 2001).

the role of the librarian as teacher the challenges of il instruction
The Role of the Librarian as Teacher & The Challenges of IL Instruction
  • Not a new concept but it is receiving increased study, as is our role to perform as teachers in Learner Centered Universities
  • “If all libraries are now ‘teaching libraries,’ then all librarians can benefit from thinking about what research and practice has taught us about instructional improvement” S. Walter RUSQ Spring 2006.
  • Have we librarians retooled our instructional approach past a database analysis tour to a research process style – “sage on the stage” vs. “guide on the side” – constructivist approach.
  • Targeting single or multiple ACRL IL Student Learning outcomes in one-shot and beyond.

Federated Searching is Gaining on our Rear View Mirror Reflection

Future Presentations

Today at WILU 35 – Speaker Patrick R. Labelle, Concordia University on Federated searching's potential impact on information literacy ALA 2006 - Federated Search: How Do We Teach It? - a pre-conference workshop with Christopher Cox, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire Special Issue of Internet Reference Services Quarterly on Federated Searching. The issue (12 1/2) will tentatively be published 2/07Past Presentations “The Myth, Magic and Reality of Federated Searching: Implications for Reference &Instruction,” – CARL South Mini Conference December 9. 2005. LITA October 2005 (San Jose, CA) "Falling Down the Portal: Undergraduate Adventures in Federated Metasearch Technology at California State University Northridge“ L. Lampert & K. Dabbour.

federated search technologies academic libraries and information literacy
Federated search technologies, Academic Libraries and Information Literacy
  • Webster, Peter. (2004) Metasearching in an Academic Environment Online®, v. 28, no. 2 (Mar./Apr. 2004).
  • McCaskie, Lucy (2004) What are the implications for information literacy training in higher education with the introduction of federated search tools?, University of Sheffield (M.A. Thesis)
  • Zimmerman, Devin (2004) Metasearching’s Teaching Moments. Library Journal; Sept 1, 2004
  • Tallent, Ed. (2004) “Metasearching in Boston College Libraries: A Case Study of User Reactions.” New Library World, Vol 105, No 1/2 69-75.

What do we know already and/or need to think moreabout when it comes to Federated Searching?

  • Federated searching is one of many “changes” that signals a shifting paradigm within higher education and the academic library landscape by providing users with the opportunity to search simultaneously across multiple databases, library catalogs and search engines from a single interface.
  • Federated search tools “appeal” to novice searchers who, faced with an overwhelming number of resources, remain unfamiliar as to which tools will best meet their needs.
  • Federated searching's potential impact on information literacyrepresents a serious and real concern for instruction & reference librarians.
  • The role of teaching, pedagogical renewal and creative integration of IL into the curriculum in light of the emergence of Federated Search, other technologies and our users growing dependence on search engines is more important than ever.
librarians teaching roles metasearch three assessment projects
Librarians’ Teaching Roles & Metasearch:Three Assessment Projects

Two focused on librarians reactions to metasearch technologies from a reference and information literacy perspective.

One user survey that attempted to capture early student experiences with metasearch.

Lampert, L.D. & Dabbour, K.S. “Librarian Perspectives on Teaching MetaSearch and Federated Search Technologies (Working title),”Internet Reference Services Quarterly 12 (January/February 2007). [Expected 2007]

initial survey of librarians attitudes toward federated searching
Initial Survey of Librarians’ Attitudes Toward Federated Searching

2005 LITA National Forum Data10 open-ended questions

Online Survey distributed to:

  • ILI-L (Information Literacy Instruction Listserv, ACRL/ALA),
  • CALIBACA-L (California Academic & Research Libraries Listserv, ACRL/ALA),
  • CSULIB-L (California State University Librarians Listserv, California Academic and Research Libraries)
how many libraries had implemented federated search
How many libraries had implemented federated search?

34% of the respondents in this survey answered “don’t have” or “stopped using” to the first question about when their libraries first offered federated searching to their patrons.

federated searching taught in class
Federated Searching Taught in Class?

The second question asked if the librarian taught federated searching in a formal setting, such as during a library instruction session

Federated Searching Taught in Class?

why no for 61 surveyed
Why “NO” for 61% surveyed?

Librarians who do not teach federated searching said that their biggest impediments were:

  • The loss of controlled vocabularies and specialized features of individual databases, such as limiting to peer-reviewed journals only.
  • Suspicion of the precision and recall of federated search systems
  • Thought it too time-consuming to teach in a 50-minute session
  • Perception that is was too confusing for students,
  • Felt that they tended to reinforce the Google approach to searching and overlooking specialized databases.
  • Barrier that not all library databases are available via a federated search system.
for the 21 who said yes they do offer federated search instruction
For the 21% who said “yes” they do offer federated search instruction
  • Respondents explained that they found the ability to save citations and search strategies enables them to introduce undergraduate students to information management.
  • Reported that they covered both the native interface and federated searching, outlining the disadvantages/advantages of each approach.
  • Asked students to search both the native and federated interfaces to find out which students thought were more useful and to identify the differences.
  • Librarians promoted federated searching as a starting point to identify relevant databases, controlled vocabularies listed in the full record displays, and to connect students to the native interface.
impact of federated searching on il skills of students
Impact of Federated Searching on IL Skills of Students
  • Most of the respondents thought the impact was negative or neutral. For those who indicated a negative impact, common themes were:
      • That students could not recognize the benefits of using a particular database if they relied on federated search systems.
      • Students do not know what they are searching, are overwhelmed by too many results.
      • Have difficulty distinguishing between the types of sources retrieved.
      • In addition, the librarians considered the concept ofencouraging “Google-thinking” as negative.
more positive or neutral responses
More Positive or Neutral Responses

Some neutral impact responses related to the respondent not being sure yet because they had not thought about it and/or their library had not had federated searching long enough.A few felt the impact neutral because they considered it another tool in the student’s search option toolbox.

For the 10% who felt it had a positive impact, one respondent said that it,“Helped teach the variety of resources available”“A quick and easy way to get students thinking about their results”“If you teach both native and federated interfaces you give students a choice.”

librarian assessment findings
Librarian Assessment Findings

Q5: Are you confident teaching federated searching in instruction sessions and/or at the reference desk?

librarian assessment findings1
Librarian Assessment Findings
  • Q7: Do you prefer to teach the native interface for individual databases over federated searching?
librarian assessment findings2
Librarian Assessment Findings

Why librarians stated that they prefer teaching the native interface:

Limiting ability

Sophisticated search options

Distinguish easily between scholarly vs. popular

Controlled vocabularies

Most students don’t need a lot of databases

quotes from open ended comments in librarian assessment findings
Quotes from open ended comments in Librarian Assessment Findings

“Federated searching is a path of despair that assumes that either we do not have time or a venue to teach more sophisticated search methods, or our students are incapable or unmotivated to learn how to search with more sophistication. Federated searching produces muddled results that take us only a few baby steps beyond Google.” Anonymous

martin gordon 1986 article access too easy serials librarianship in transition
Martin Gordon (1986) “Article Access -- Too Easy? Serials Librarianship in Transition”

Lamentation of growth of online databases and stagnation of student research skills.

The limited level of undergraduate subject knowledge and “Lack of analytic selection from the [resulting] citations produced by the search as well as initial error in qualifying limitation placed on the search further exacerbate problems.”

“It remains the responsibility of the librarian to see to it that important steps are not excluded in the assembling of the bibliography – the realization of both expediency and comprehensiveness without the sacrifice of the true exercise in research that the library has always advocated – the careful, conscious discrimination in the student’s selection of…source material.”

content delivery mechanisms for higher education are being challenged
All of Higher Education

Pedagogical stretches


Online supplemental learning / tutorials

(Elluminate) synchronous /asynchronous

Student centered learning

Library Specific Changes

New multiple source formats for databases

Built in citation formatting

More information than ever in multiple formats

Personalization – My folders in several databases

Content & Delivery Mechanisms for Higher Education are Being Challenged
list of problems to think about for instructional integration
List of Problems to Think About for Instructional Integration
  • Students will click before they think
  • Students won’t know what databases they’re searching
  • Not all databases can be included
  • Can’t use special features available on some databases (field limits, thesauri)
  • Search reduced to the “lowest common denominator”
  • Students won’t understand what sources are included
  • Can’t recognize scholarly literature – no limit
  • Risk getting too many results
  • Makes evaluation of information more complicated

C. Cox Federated Search: How Will it Change the Way We Teach? Brick and Click Conference 2005.

other issues that impact showing users metasearch and other resources
Other issues that impact showing users metasearch and other resources
  • Speed of results
  • Quality of results
  • Student’s ability to discern content of results (scholarly v. popular; type of resource; location)
  • Student’s feeling of being overwhelmed – less is more -
  • Student familiarity with library research
  • How it works with the rest of the curriculum of a library’s instructional programming.
  • Who is the target population (undergraduate, grad, faculty?)
federated search and the information literacy competency standards
Federated Search and the Information Literacy Competency Standards
  • What are the real information literacy implications of federated searching?
  • What is the most effective way of introducing it into our IL curricula?
  • What are some examples of ways to bring this into the classroom?
  • Which ACRL IL Standards are best to target when working with federated search tools?
standard two is a key factor for il instruction
Standard Two is a key factor for IL instruction

Standard Two:

The information literate

student accesses needed

information effectively

and efficiently.

1. The information literate

student selects the most

appropriate investigative

methods or information

retrieval systems for

Accessing the needed


2. The information literate student constructs and implements effectively-designed search strategies (problematic due to simplistic search capability).

  • Standard Three: The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system
integrating federated search exercises into il sessions
Integrating Federated Search Exercises into IL Sessions
  • Compare results from a search of an individual database (native interface) with a federated search and search engine.
  • Discuss document retrieval types prior to introducing federated searching.
  • Apply source criteria to evaluate federated search results list.
  • Careful comparative analysis/annotation of results from databases included in a federated search and native search interface..
  • Search term discovery exercise in native interface to deepen topic search before evaluating results in multiple databases.
  • Set search queries for class, divide class into native search vs. federated and have them report back on results.
  • Have students annotate results from comparative search using federated interface and native search interface.
exercises like these call for a shift in instructional philosophy
Move from focus on what tool to teach (federated search or …) to how to get students to learn a concept)

“It makes no sense to decide how one is going to teach before one has made some study of how people learn.”

(Eric Sotto When Teaching becomes Learning 1994)

Create a rich, problem-solving environment

Present authentic contexts and tasks rather than predetermined (canned) instructional sequences

Reflective practice needed (hands-on)

Focus on knowledge construction not reproduction (deep versus surface learning)

Exercises Like These Call for a Shift in Instructional Philosophy
lack of curriculum development
Lack of Curriculum Development?

Enhancing the quality of library instruction is not about devising more brief activities or even slicker performances (video, Powerpoint, etc.) but about recognizing the need to build the learners' needs and priorities into induction.

With this focus induction might look quite different: engaging students in discussion about their expectations of the library or about experiences of using libraries, working to meet the information needs that students have at that time, ...or involving them in looking at how they currently find things in libraries.

  • Sharon Markless “Learning about Learning rather than about teaching”. IFLA 2002
Defining Key IL Issues Sadeh, T. (2004) The Challenge of Metasearching New Library World, v. 105, no. 1198/1199, p. 104-112.

“Metasearching, also known as integrated searching, simultaneous searching, cross-database searching, parallel searching, broadcast searching, and federated searching, refers to a process in which a user submits a query to numerous information resources. The resources can be heterogeneous in many respects: their location, the format of the information that they offer, the technologies on which they draw, the types of materials that they contain, and more.

  • Key UndergraduateInformation LiteracyIssuesHeterogeneity of:
  • Locations
  • Formats
  • Technologies
  • Materials
to teach students how to learn how to use federated searching tools we must engage the learner
To teach students how to learn how to use federated searching tools we must engage the learner…
  • Remember that learning is messy
  • Learners’ interactions with information are complex and initially not always fully understood
  • the search process has cognitive and emotional, as well as behavioural aspects
  • confusion, hesitation and uncertainty must be acknowledged as part of the search process
  • students need to own the search process: it must fit into how they think and operate – ‘satisfycing’ may happen initially need to introduce comparisons.
market emphasize our deep understanding of the relationship between people and information
Market & emphasize our deep understanding of the relationship between people and information
other issues federated search technology at the reference desk and in the classroom
Other Issues – Federated Search Technology at the Reference Desk and in the classroom
  • Steven J. Bell – “There needs to be a balance between integrating library resources into Google and educating users to understand that they sometimes need to be where the library is.”
  • The value of the reference interview and one-on-one instruction that works to develop student familiarity with resources, search concepts, and disciplinary research resources.
future research questions
Future Research Questions
  • Student/User self ratings of IL skills pre & post metasearch focus group
  • Student satisfaction with IR results
  • Citation analysis of bibliographies produced by students using a metasearch product
  • Focus groups on what students want to learn at the reference desk/ and in information literacy sessions
  • Metasearch/federated search assessments of user satisfaction
contact information
Contact Information

Lynn Lampert MLIS, MA

Coordinator of Library Instruction & Information Literacy

Oviatt Library, 8327

California State University Northridge


Phone: (818) 677-7104

Home page: