Thursday, March 13, 2008


by Arielle Brechisci, Journalism Major

Last month, Stony Brook University debuted new software that will simplify the daunting task of searching databases one by one and instead allow students and faculty to access up to 50 at a time.

On February 5, Aimée deChambeau, the Electronic Resources Acquisitions and Access Librarian, demonstrated the advantages of a new federated search system called Galaxy to Stony Brook University Journalism students. Instead of searching each of the library’s 250 databases one at a time, Galaxy aggregates up to 50 of them in one interface. Galaxy is “one of those Holy Grail things for libraries,” said deChambeau.

The library plans to terminate Galaxy if students and faculty members don’t find it helpful.

Adopting Galaxy makes Stony Brook part of a trend amongst other universities. SUNY New Paltz employed a similar system called WebFeat about two years ago. North Carolina State University has used Endeca Profind since January 2006.

When students and faculty members want to research a subject, they click the Galaxy link on the Stony Brook Library website. After typing in the subject and choosing from one of several subject categories, Galaxy gathers the information within a few minutes. When Galaxy finishes searching, the user has a list of search results from up to 50 databases. If the user clicks on the name of the article, Galaxy brings them to the database containing the original record.

Previously, if a student wanted to research the same subject from 50 different databases, they would need to repeat this process 50 times. Now with Galaxy, the user only does it once.

Galaxy clusters search results by date, journal, topic, author and source. The user can narrow down their search by choosing from one of these clusters.

“I think it would definitely be easier than searching one at a time,” said Caroline Knoepffler, an undergraduate Stony Brook student who has used the library databases for writing assignments. “I would absolutely use it.”

Since not all databases work exactly the same, some cannot be used with Galaxy. The library already pulled three out of the original 50 databases because of technical problems. They haven’t been replaced yet and the list may get longer. “Factiva is not working that well,” said deChambeau.

Federated search systems were only developed over the last several years, although the idea has been around for much longer.

Dean Chris Filstrup and the library staff decided to finally subscribe to Galaxy with the interest of Stony Brook students in mind. “The real interest is to get the information to you,” said deChambeau. DeChambeau hopes Galaxy can “make people better researchers” by helping students decide which choice to try out first when faced with many search results.

DeChambeau also hopes Galaxy changes the way users search databases in the future. “One of the big advantages of Galaxy is that it can help you discover places to look where you wouldn’t necessarily think to look,” said deChambeau. For example, searching a medical term can return articles from places students would not normally think to search, like a business management database. Using new databases exposes the user to information from a variety of sources, instead of just one or two sections that the researcher is familiar with.

Serials Solutions, a division of ProQuest, hosts Galaxy along with several other online library operations at Stony Brook including Article Linker. The library receives a big discount for customer loyalty and pays about $9,000 per year for the subscription to Galaxy.

In addition to controlling the software and building the connections to the databases, Serials Solutions provides user statistics to the library. Using these statistics, deChambeau and other librarians can measure usage by comparing it to statistics gathered before introducing Galaxy. The statistics inform the library how often students use Galaxy, what subjects they search by, and what databases they click on.

If the library discovers that user statistics are low because they didn’t promote Galaxy enough, the library will focus more on advertising. If Galaxy is successful, more databases will be added in increments of 25.

Out of the library’s 250 databases, the librarians handpicked 50 to include in Galaxy. About 30 librarians chose them based on questions asked by students and relevance to undergraduate research.

The library catalog is called STARS, so the library chose the name Galaxy for the new system because it follows the same theme.

The original release date for Galaxy was mid-January but the holiday season caused a delay.

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