Since it lacks precision, I have steered students away from OneSearch, the UMaine System’s all-inclusive search mechanism (federated searching, in library lingo). Now I can see the lack of focus as a teaching–and learning–opportunity.
The goal of OneSearch is to provide library users a one-stop search experience. Users don’t need to do separate searches for books and articles respectively. The single search, though, often yields too many results. It can overwhelm a novice user.
We librarians can show users how to limit a search. If the assignment calls for a journal article, for example, we can show users the Content Type limiter. In the case of books users can choose not only a particular library’s collection (within the UMaine System), but also a particular genre. Instructors can remind students of assignment parameters (date, content type, etc.). Learners can explore different subject terms as they develop their research topics. The limits make the search less overwhelming.
The limiters also make the user stop and think about the given information need. With each search he or she can think about the most important parameters of the situation. Does he need articles, for example, or would books contain the information he needs? Does she need the most recent articles, or does she need earlier material for a thorough literature review? If we stop and think about such questions, we can be more intentional in our searching.
We librarians can model such thinking in our demonstrations. Subject instructors can use it in assignment design. Students can use it in their own research and in discussions with their peers. Then we would all make the most of OneSearch.