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September 2, 2004

ULS Touts Speedy new Search Engine

Why Google when you can Zoom through a research topic electronically? Zoom, a custom-made search engine for the University Library System (ULS), debuted on Aug. 25. Users need only go to the library’s homepage and click on “Zoom.” Enter a topic to search and within seconds, Zoom produces a list of academic and popular citations culled from five popular databases.

For longer searches, the new system can check the library’s 400 or so databases and electronic journals simultaneously.

Many researchers at the library used to search data bases and electronic journals one at a time. But now simultaneous searches are possible.

“It’s going to shorten a user’s search time and make it more efficient,” said Rush Miller, ULS director. “It does what Google does but for licensed databases.” Licensed databases are available mostly through paid subscriptions.

For example, “Academic Search Premier” offers a database of academic journals and popular media articles. It is free to Pitt faculty, staff and students because ULS pays more than $3 million a year for database and electronic journal subscriptions, according to Miller.

But the problem is that not everybody knows what databases are available. To complicate matters, databases change names and companies.

With Zoom, faculty and staff don’t have to know all of the profiles of scads of data banks and journals, according to Jeff Wisniewski, web services librarian.

“Zoom combines the ease of Google with academic quality results,” said Wisniewski. Quality means peer-reviewed academic journals, full text newspapers, transcripts from news organizations and popular information sources like Time, Newsweek and USA Today.

In fact, Zoom focuses on textual information and subscription-based databanks – information niches not covered by popular Internet search engines.

Online magazine noted the difference between Google and a search engine such as Zoom in its March-April 2004 issue: “Google, for the general public, sets the gold standard for returning relevant results. Federated search offers another opportunity for libraries to out-Google Google, this time by returning relevant results that Google misses.” How Zoom works: Say, a library user wants to search for “first lady.” Enter those keywords into a Google search and up pop 8.7 million hits. Users can ponder an exhausting list of everything “first lady,” from the official White House website to an eBay advertisement hawking “Great deals on new and used items. Search for first lady now!”

Enter “First Lady” in Zoom and15,000 hits appear broken down into five databases. The database, “ArticleFirst” holds 477 articles referencing “first lady.” A quick glance at one of the database’s citations includes, “An ‘improbable leap’: a content analysis of newspaper coverage of Hillary Clinton’s transition from first lady to senate candidate,” from Communication Abstracts, 2003, Vol. 26, issue one.

Faculty and students familiar with specific journals can still access individual journals electronically. But new search options with Zoom include subject specific search pages; quick link feature using ULS’ five largest and broadest databases, and a “select all” database feature.

Coming this spring, library users can save searches, then set them to repeat at regular intervals – a great tool for anyone wanting to keep up with news in a certain field. This set-search function would allow users to retrieve only new items. Then, Zoom will alert users of new items by e-mail.

WebFeat, an information technology-consulting firm from Old Brookville, New York, designed Zoom.

— Mary Ann Thomas

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 1

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