As with any field, librarians have their own jargon that works as a convenient shorthand when we talk among ourselves. Terms like "bibliographic instruction" and "integrated library system" can be confusing and off-putting to the general public even if they benefit from the underlying concepts. Case in point: federated searching. In lay person's terms, this means searching across multiple databases simultaneous. While searching a single database is great when you know exactly what you are searching for, federated searching is ideal when your needs are more vague, especially when you are starting your research.
Here are examples of the value of federated searching from two different reference questions we received yesterday. The first was for a copy of journal article for which the person only provided the article title, not the journal name, author or any other publication information. From our E-Resources page, I clicked on "Search Articles & More." We currently have two different versions, one that we are in the process of phasing out and a new one that is still receiving its final spit and polish, but both work. I selected all databases and searched for the title surrounded by quotation marks so that it would be searched as an exact phrase. I was able to find the full text of the article in JSTOR and provide a full citation. Without federated search, the ability the search across multiple databases simultaneously, I would have had to perform the same search over and over while trying to guess, based on the subject matter implied by the title and the coverage of each database, where I might find it.
Another person wanted an audio example of an unusual musical instrument. For this, I started at our Streaming Audio page went to Music Online. (If you are accessing this from off campus, you need to go through our web site to be authenticated as a Berklee user). Music Online is the the federated search tool for the wide variety of streaming music databases provided by Alexander St. Press. While I found text descriptions of the instrument in the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, I found a streaming audio track demonstrating the instrument in a different database, Contemporary World Music.
The term "federated searching" may sound like trying to locate potential members for labor unions, but it is really a helpful tool to speed up your research. Even better, the library provides these tools without requiring you to remember what we call them.