April 6, 2007

New Search Engine Helps Students Navigate Library

Print More

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, students walking through the Straight, the atrium of Duffield and Mann Library were given free highlighters, bookmarks and fortune cookies containing interesting facts about Cornell University Library’s new online search engine, Find it!. Fortune cookie recipients also had the opportunity to receive such prizes as $100 cash, iTunes gift cards or Ezra Cornell Bicentennial t-shirts. The Library also put colorful printed mini-towers in computer labs and around campus libraries to promote the new tool, according to Zsuzsa Koltay, special projects librarian.
The Library is promoting Find it! because it is a tool that searches hundreds of resources and guarantees the scholarly integrity of its results. Although Google Scholar has recently been trying to achieve this capability, most of the resources that Find it! has access to “cannot be ‘crawled’ by search engines,” according to Koltay.
“In an age of search engines, people just expect to be able to search without jumping any initial hurdles, a la Google. Find it! offers the means to search rich library content, most of which is not available via web search engines,” said Anne Kenney, interim University librarian.
According to Library officials, students fail to access needed sources among the thousands of scholarly journals and databases that the Cornell libraries pay for and license.
“Most of these are hidden treasures, because they are not indexed by services like Google,” said Karen Calhoun, senior associate University librarian for information technology and technical services. “This means that a student or scholar is faced with independently discovering which of these online scholarly resources are relevant to his or her topic, then searching them one by one. Find it! makes it possible for students and faculty to look in one place for these previously hidden treasures.”
“A single search scans the contents of hundreds of scholarly databases that the Library licenses for Cornell’s use,” Koltay said.
In addition to being broader and deeper than Google Scholar, Find it! is also more frequently updated. Find it! can also scan databases, articles, images and other reference materials in addition to the Library’s own online catalog and digital collections.
“Find it! helps you find the scholarly articles you need for your research paper, the facts you want to confirm for your presentation, the background you need for a grant proposal,” said Janet McCue, Mann Library director. In searching several databases at a time, McCue pointed out, “the system will eliminate duplication, sort your results and connect you to the full text.”
The Find it! search engine is so extensive because it uses a different technology than other colleges to scan databases. The technology, called metasearching, is provided by the company WebFeat.
“We were one of the first libraries in the country to experiment with an early version of the Find it! technology,” said Calhoun. “The new Find It! is considerably more robust, easier to use and covers lots more databases and e-journals plus visual images, information about books in the Cornell libraries and more.”
Although this technology is limited by the fact that it opens real time connections to the selected databases and thus takes longer to search, “the content is worth it,” according to Koltay.
This limitation “is mitigated by the fact that results from the fastest databases can be used while some of the slower ones are still streaming in, eliminating the frustration of waiting,” Koltay said.
“We know that use and ease of use are highly correlated — as it has become less intuitive for users to obtain information from library databases due to different interfaces and functionality and interoperability issues, they have stopped accessing some of the most critical academic resources,” Kenney said.
“Find it! makes it easier to use the best academic resources,” Koltay said, and students have shown positive reactions thus far. One engineering student said that Find it! was the first Cornell web site that impressed him, according to Koltay.
In addition to saving time for students who must adhere to strict deadlines, Find it! “has the secondary benefit of helping students identify and become familiar with the key scholarly information resources in a discipline,” according to Calhoun.
“For example, some students might not think to turn to the Web of Science or Cambridge Scientific Abstracts when they are researching a topic in engineering. Find It! automatically pulls those and other key engineering information resources together for you under its ‘Engineering’ category,” Calhoun said.
“For general purpose searching, Google is certainly faster. But for discovering and getting hold of a few of the best academic resources on a topic — most of which are not indexed by Google at all — Find It! can be a big help,” Calhoun said.
“We have the best of what scholarship has to offer and using this quality will help students succeed in their academic career,” Kenney said.