All eyes were on Google yesterday and its announcement that it’s working with several high-profile libraries to digitize their collections. But Google is not the only Bay Area search company cutting deals with universities. San Francisco’s Groxis, which we visited with back in October, has announced Grokker EDU, a version of the company’s graphical search tool aimed at researchers and educators.

Grokker is so different from traditional search tools that it’s difficult to describe. It’s downloadable software, not a web-based search engine like Google or Yahoo. It takes data from multiple sources, such as search engines and proprietary databases, and displays search results in a visual map, clustering them into different-colored orbs. The company says this method helps users drill down to the information they’re seeking far more quickly than the long list of links offered by traditional search engines.

Grokker has been working closely with Stanford for some time, letting students and faculty play with the software and soliciting feedback.

“We’ve sucked dry the brain of researchers, librarians and everyone in between to build a tool that’s relevant,” Groxis CEO R.J. Pittman told us.

Now the software has gained the endorsement of Stanford’s head librarian, Michael Keller. He said the university will probably invest in Groxis and help the company make the software more useful to academics.

“I know a lot of professors have been using it and are excited about it,” Keller said. “The next step will be to work with them to develop plug-ins for each and everyone of our databases.”

Stanford has dozens of databases available through its library and would like a more effective way for students and researchers to search them all through a common interface. Grokker could provide that, Keller said.

Having used Stanford as a testing ground, Groxis is now hoping to branch out to other universities. It’s working with Harvard, UC Berkeley, MIT, UCLA and USC to develop hooks into their library systems and the databases that are important to their students and faculty. The company is also seeking deals with K-12 school districts. Pittman said the company has had discussions with the massive Los Angeles Unified School District, among others.

“If we could start to crack open that market,” he said, “as it seems to indicate we can, it could get real interesting.”

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