Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Top 10 opensearch searchplugins used at the Information Desk


I have being heavily using opensearch searchplugins to help speed up access to common used searches at the reference desk. I take it for granted, most people already have Google, Wikipedia, Youtube, Amazon etc. But what else should you add?

1. SearchPlugin to my Institution's OPAC

This one is obvious. I have searchplugin's to our new Encore system which does a keyword search , and another to do a search by Call number. The latter is necessary because Encore still doesn't do call number searches yet and a lot number of our patrons like to give me call numbers to verify.

Of course, you could always keep a tab open on your OPAC search page, but being able to interrupt your work and instantly look up something without hunting for a tab is good.

2. SearchPlugin to Google Scholar and Google Books

In earlier posts, I have explained I'm a big fan of Google scholar and Google books. Naturally I have searchplugins for them. Use Google scholar to verify citations, hunt for obscure terms when your other sources don't find much and a lot more. Google books. is great for verifying contents of books (those with limited preview or full view). Strangely I find myself doing it more often for books that we own. That sounds a bit odd, but when you can't leave the desk to verify if a certain book really has the chapter the patron needs (and the catalogue doesn't have the tables of contents), Google books is a god sent. Also great for remote reference to help patrons decide if they really want to come down physically to borrow the book.

We don't yet have a openurl resolver up yet, so when clicking on Google scholar results sends me to the vendor page, I log-in directly with a bookmarklet that adds our ezproxy string to the url.

I've considered adding other members of the Google family such as Google Groups (great for tech support), or Google news, but I seldom use them at my reference desk.

3. SearchPlugin for directions

Want to know the way to the Zoo from the library? To the airport? I'm the last person you should ask, since I was born without a sense of direction. To solve this problem, I have a searchplugin from gothere.sg that allows you to key in any postal code or road name or building in Singapore, and it will automatically work out the best route to go there from the library, whether by driving, or by public transport (Bus and MRT). This can then be easily printed. You can also flip it around with a click so it goes from any location to the Library.

There are many similar services here in Singapore, but they either don't provide directions for public transport (e.g. Google Maps, Red nano) or they allow you to only search by Street or Postal or building name and not all three together in one search. (e.g. Streetdirectory.com)

4. SearchPlugin for Google site search of my institution

Another no-brainer. Often you need to just search for things on your institution's domain. If a custom google site search for the domain exists, create a searchplugin for it. or if it does not exist and you don't want to create one you can create a normal Google search plugin, but remember to insert site:www.institutiondomain.edu before creating.

If your institution has a specialized intranet search engine (e.g google search appliance), you might want to create a searchplugin for that too. In the same category is a searchplugin for searching your institution's staff directory.

5. SearchPlugin for newspaper searches

Patrons tend to like to ask questions that require searching of Straits Times, our national newspaper. Since I haven't yet figured out a way to get the plugin working for Factiva, I created one for Lexis-Nexis Academic which searches our local newspapers. But what about older archived issues not covered? Recently our National Library scanned all back issues of Straits Time (up to 1982) at newspapers.nl.sg I created a search plugin for that, it shows only abstracts, but that is good enough to verify for users whether they want to go to our microflim collection to get the full text.

6. SearchPlugin for Thesis

Another common query is for thesis. I generally add PQDT. Some others I occasionally use also are NDLTD, Hong Kong University Thesis etc.

7. SearchPlugin for Open Access archives

They are several you could add. Google scholar already covers quite a bit, but I could envision adding Citeseerx, Arxiv, Biomed central etc depending on your needs. Others you could add include Open J Gate, DOAJ, OAIster to search by article. etc.

8. SearchPlugin for digitalized book collections

Try adding the free Open content alliance (via Internet Archive), Universal Digital Library, China-US Million book project. If your institution has subscriptions you could add Springer Books, NetLibrary etc.

9. SearchPlugin for scholarly search engines.

Try adding some high quality web search engines, Federated search engines that index academic material only such as Scirus, Mednar, Biznar, Science.gov etc.

10. SearchPlugin for anything else

Be creative, add book vendors like Bookdata online, Worldcat etc. Or Social sites/research 2.0 sites like Librarything, Bookjetty, Citeulike, Slideshare etc.

I personally also add Scopus, EconLit, Blackwell-Wiley, Project Muse, for specific reasons to do with the interaction between Google scholar and the proxy bookmarklet that I won't go into now.


Yes, I have a big bunch of searchplugins in my browser. In fact I have 2 lists one for IE7 , one for Firefox. The later I use at the reference desk, the former I use when I'm in the back-room doing cataloguing, acquisitions etc with the appropriate search-plugins. But that is another post.

So dear librarians, what search tricks do you use (need not be opensearch plugins, could be smart keywords) do you commonly use at the desk?

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