Tuesday, May 30, 2006

On Improving Your Search Techniques

As an Instruction Librarian, I think it is extremely important that I keep my search skills up to date. I work at this, but there are times when I do feel I need more time to just play around and practice searching. As things are slowing down a bit due to the intercession going into the first summer session, I get a little bit of breathing room to think. I also get to go back and look over things I have wanted to address, but the pace of the school year prevented that. At any rate, I was looking at Steve Cohen's post calling for librarians to improve their search skills. The Red Haired Librarian also had a response to Mr. Cohen's post here, which may prove interesting to look at. So, here is my humble attempt as I go through the list, to, oh, I don't know, maybe make sense of this for myself. Or maybe just reaffirm for me the commitment to keep up. So, here is what Mr. Cohen wrote, with my commentary, if any:

1) Make online searching MANDATORY in library school. Make it a core course. This should probably go without saying. I did not take the formal online retrieval class, in large measure I think because they were still doing Dialog of all things. I got my search techniques exposure through the regular reference class, and the basic computer literacy class they make everyone take, which had an online searching module. My beef if any would be that the class should reflect current thinking and relevancy.

2) Keep up with search engine news and how to use these tools to their maximum capabilities. Again, this is a given. If you have a regime or routine for keeping up, this should be a part of it. I will admit that while I am aware of a lot of what is going on, I can use some additional practice time in the proverbial simulator.

3) Library school professors: Put a glass jar on your desk. Every time you say, "Google it", put a dime in the jar (the same should go for your students) and take out an ad in Yahoo or Ask with the money collected over the course of the semester. Better yet, donate it to LII (although I don't think that they can take private donations - Karen?). On this, I have to go with some of the questions that the Red Haired Librarian raises. If the other tools are not better than Google, then we can't just get rid of Google for the sake of getting rid of Google. Is the remark of "google it" overused? Absolutely. It does not mean I think that Google is the enemy. It's just a tool. There are other tools out there, but some of those tools may not have proven themselves. Lazy or not, there is a reason why patrons will turn to Google, and it's not always laziness. So professors, it's up to you to keep up as well and show your students all the other good alternatives to Google.

4) Reference desk managers: Do the jar thing too, but buy your staff a book on how to search with the money collected. Either that or hire Gary Price to come to your library and teach search. Or, donate it to LII (Again, Karen?). Would I rather be using just the library resources at the desk? Yes, but I know I will turn to Google now and then. I think the idea is to be able to exploit the advanced features of that and every other search engine. You should avoid telling your patrons to google something. Your job is to find them alternatives and options.

5) Do not make Google the default page at your reference workstations. If you are going to do this, at least use the advanced page. Send them to the library homepage.

6) Needs assessment time. What's more important: Working on that library MySpace account, posting pictures of your book collection on Flickr, or brushing up on your searching skills? Prioritize. Mr. Cohen raises an interesting question. All those Mount Ubertech dwellers out there who embrace every social software tool online like the latest bride (and that is my polite way of saying something that starts with "s" and rhymes with "hut"), how well can they search when it comes down to it. I am not saying to not learn about social software, but we should command the search landscape.

7) Understand the invisible web and how it exists. Know about subject-specific engines and directories. Know the best person, home, and e-mail look-up tools. I need more work on this. I know of some tools in my subject areas, but I need more exploring.

8) Use your reference book collection. Not all answers are found in the glorified results of a word or phrase search on ANY engine. Find some of my thoughts on print reference here. You should have a good command of your print reference sources as well.

9) Don't enable. Not only should we teach better searching skills to our colleagues and users, we should practice what we preach. Don't have a Google search box on your library web page or blog. Don't have canned Google searches on your web page or blog that lead to atrocious results. This, I have to plead guilty too. I don't use Google too much in my blog, but I have known to suggest searching Technorati on a topic, usually for the topics that the A-listers of the biblioblogosphere have covered ad nauseam. I don't even like Technorati that much, which at times can be extremely clunky and slow. In fact, doing a link search or other advanced search on one of the mainstream serch engines may do the trick as well. I think I do it for the name recognition of readers knowing what Technorati is, well at least the LIS readers. However, I don't link to any canned searches. I just suggest using the tool and at times list a term or two to try, but not the actual seach. I guess I should get a bit better about leading by example.

10) Don't forget the importance of using the fee-based databases that your library (check that, your patrons) pays for. Remember that "free is as free does." Amen.

Oh well, if nothing else, I am aware that I can use a bit more work and practice.


Steven said...

Angel: Thanks for your commentary on my list.


Angel, librarian and educator said...

Steven: Oh, you are welcome. You wrote something that sparked thought as well as gave us a reminder that we should "own" when it comes to searching. Best, and keep on blogging.