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GPO Federates Federal Government Catalogs—GPO MetaLib
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Posted On November 4, 2010
Sometimes a product has been coming down the road for so long that we are caught by surprise when it finally arrives. This is the case with GPO MetaLib, a new federated search service from the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). Announced in October 2010, GPO MetaLib has been in the agency’s plans since it began transition to a new Integrated Library System (ILS) more than 5 years ago. GPO MetaLib uses the federated search solution from Ex Libris Group that goes by the brand name MetaLib. Why MetaLib? In 2004, GPO selected the Ex Libris product ALEPH for its ILS, and MetaLib is part of GPO’s ILS package.

GPO MetaLib simultaneously searches more than 50 federal government publication catalogs, federal library catalogs, and specialized indexes. It is billed as a service of GPO’s Catalog of U.S. Government Publications and is linked from the CGP home page. CGP includes records for government publications cataloged by GPO since July 1976. It is a large database, but it does not include all government material and is not intended to do so. The federated databases in GPO MetaLib supplement CGP with records for such items as articles within government periodicals and technical reports resulting from government contracts. They also pull in non-government publications, such as the medical literature indexed in the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed and the millions of items described in the Library of Congress Catalog. The varied list of resources includes the Defense Technical Information Center’s Public Technical Reports, Data.gov, Geodata.gov, ERIC, Energy Citations Database, the National Archives’ Archival Research Catalog, USA.gov, and Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Publications from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The service has basic, advanced, and expert search interfaces. The expert interface offers the most options for managing your search, and it does not require knowledge of specialized search syntax. The template for constructing an expert search has basic field limits (author, title, subject, ISSN, ISBN, and year), Boolean searching, the ability to refine a search, and the most flexible options for selecting which resources to search. With the Quick Sets option, you can choose a broad subject area such as “Environment” and select or de-select databases in that area. A second option allows you to view and select databases by the host agency name. GPO MetaLib has a rich set of features for managing results, including multiple sort options, the ability to save searches and results within a session, view records in their original format, and email records. The basic search option searches only the “General” Quick Set of ten databases. Any of the 13 Quick Sets can be selected in advanced search, but the individual sets cannot be edited.

GPO MetaLib works well as a tool for discovering government catalogs and indexes online. Government catalogs and indexes can be arcane; ARC, AGRICOLA, CGP, DTIC S&T Research, ERIC, and MERLN Group Catalog are not found in many personal browser histories or bookmark collections. GPO MetaLib will help researchers find more government or government-held information than they would with a quick Google search. In some cases, the resources indexed in these databases are part of the deep web not indexed by general search engines. If indexed, they may not compete well in the ranking against other sources, remaining buried in the depths of a Google results list.

The downside for casual searchers is the fact that many of the databases do not link to the full text or ordering options. Government indexes, such as ERIC and AGRICOLA, are linking to more full text than previously. Other GPO MetaLib databases, such as the catalogs of non-lending government libraries, may present document delivery challenges.

Librarians and other search pros can use GPO MetaLib for an initial scouting expedition before narrowing their search. The interface lends itself to this approach; resources in GPO MetaLib link to the home agency’s version of the database from multiple points, including from the full record and from database lists such as those in expert search and the A-Z list Resource List. The circled i (information) symbol links to a pop-up window with basic information about the individual databases for those who want to look before they leap out of GPO MetaLib.

GPO expects to add more databases to its federated search. The FDsys.gov online documents system, for example, may be configured as a database searchable in GPO MetaLib. GPO is also open to suggestions. Click the top menu’s “Suggest a Resource” link and add the subject line GPO MetaLib to recommend additional government databases.


Peggy Garvin of Garvin Information Consulting writes, trains, and consults on the topic of U.S. government information resources and policy.

Email Peggy Garvin

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