Team FSX: Federated Searching Exploration

Table of Contents


Background to the charge:

Federated Searching should enable users to easily discover and search multiple, disparate information resources, and to manage and further use results of searches for scholarly inquiry. It can help users discover a wide array of resources on their own, and help librarians encourage students and faculty to use the rich array of quality resources available to them. Users either do not know about the resources or avoid them because they are scattered among publishers and vendors, organized by traditional disciplines, accessible via many different access points, and searchable by inconsistent protocols. These barriers to access and use have led to a "Google it" mentality, no matter what the topic or purpose.

For the past three years, the Dartmouth College Library has been involved in the ARL Scholars Portal federated search development project with six other ARL libraries and Fretwell-Downing Inc. Dartmouth, along with three other participants, recently decided not to extend participation in this trial project. It is apparent from this work and our work with other federated searching projects that we should continue to explore federated searching options for our users. The marketplace for federated searching products is quite active and several new vendors have entered the market during the past few years. This seems the appropriate time for us to revisit this topic.

Some Definitions:

We've included a clarification of some terms for this charge, specifically the distinction between "cross searching" and "federated searching".

"Cross Searching" is becoming fairly common. We define cross searching to be a search on multiple databases, usually by one vendor, that are configured in a standard way. Some examples of cross searching are EbscoHost (Academic Search Premier, Business Source Premier, Regional Business News, MLA International Bibliography, Newspaper Source and Medline), and WilsonWeb (Applied Science Abstracts, Essay & General Lit, Library Lit & Info Science, Art Full Text, General Science Abstracts, Readers' Guide Abstracts, Art Retrospective, Humanities & Social Sci Retro, Readers' Guide Retro, Biography Index, Humanities Abstracts, Short Story Index, Biological & Agr Index Plus, Legal Periodicals & Books, Social Sciences Abstracts, and Book Review Digest Plus).

"Federated Searching", on the other hand is a fairly new technology. Federated searching is the ability to search across multiple and disparate database; these databases can be produced by multiple vendors and these databases can contain very different information from each other. A search on the Dartmouth Library Government Information Portal is a federated search since it is searching across disparate collections.

As these technologies mature, the boundaries between cross searching and federated searching are blurring. For example, the ISI Web of Knowledge platform is a combination of both, though the results of the cross search and the federated search are still distinct and not integrated.


The Federated Searching Exploration Group (Team FSX) is charged with exploring options for providing an easy means for our users to discover and search multiple, disparate resources, and manage the results of these searches. The group will consider current cross search systems already available to Dartmouth users, and how those might be part of a solution.

The final result of Team FSX's work will be a report including the following:

  1. one or more ways, if any, to bring appropriate multi-database searching to the Dartmouth community (for example, as a one search on all possible databases OR as a cross search within a discipline);
  2. possible collections of resources conducive to federated searching;
  3. one or more search solutions (if any) for possible purchase or lease; and
  4. the impact federated search implementation would have on library staff.

The group will report its findings to the Digital Library Group (DLG).

Points to include in a report:

  • Intended users, intended audience
  • One product for all or multiple products with different goals and audiences
  • Placement in a suite of digital library tools
  • Currently available tools for Dartmouth users
  • Interoperability with other digital library tools
  • The current market, from Google Scholar Beta to expensive high end systems
  • Level of customization required and desired
  • Open linking as a critical part of a successful system
  • Results management (e.g. de-duping, sorting, etc.)
  • Clear feedback on failed database searches
  • Federated search as discovery tool: enable access to native database
  • Easily integrate search form or 'portlet' into our web presence


  • Do a needs analysis-what to we need in a product and for whom is this intended
  • Query public service librarians and staff regarding federated searching
  • Do an environmental scan of the current federated search marketplace
  • Trial/demo/site visit federated searching solutions; identify institutions in our area that currently have different meta-searching products implemented and plan site-visits if we cannot get trials/demos setup
  • Communicate and involve staff in the trials/demos and feedback on products
  • Include appropriate faculty, staff and students in possible federated search trials
  • Recommend which meta-search engine(s) (if any) we should implement
  • Recommend user groups, resources and collections to use with the system
  • Create outline of possible implementation steps
  • Work with other library working groups as necessary
  • Evaluate which mini-subject portals currently exist in our collection (i.e. Materials Science via CSA)
  • Assessment of institutional costs, both money and staffing.


July 2005: Preliminary Report to DLG; status report and plan for proceeding.

Charge approved on May 11, 2005 by DLG.


Mary LaMarca, Co-chair, Digital Library Services

Reinhart Sonnenburg, Co-chair, Reference Bibliographer - German, Classics, Linguistics, Humanities


Barbara DeFelice, Head of Kresge Physical Sciences Library

Tom Mead, Informaton & Education Services Librarian, Biomedical Libraries

Mark Mounts, Business & Engineering Reference Librarian, Feldberg Library

Fran Oscadal, Reference Bibliographer - History, General Social Sciences

Mina Rakhra, Cataloging and Metadata Services Librarian

Meeting Notes

Restricted to Library Staff

Previous SPIT-related notes

Archived Information

SPIT - Scholars Portal Implementation Team - This website is no longer available