Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Booknote: How to Find Out Anything

Since this book deals with research and teaching people how to do it, I figured I would share the review I posted about it on my GoodReads profile here as well. I think for people new to the research process or trying to learn how to do it, this is a good start. For most librarians, this should be review.

How to Find Out Anything: From Extreme Google Searches to Scouring Government Documents, a Guide to Uncovering Anything About Everyone and EverythingHow to Find Out Anything: From Extreme Google Searches to Scouring Government Documents, a Guide to Uncovering Anything About Everyone and Everything by Don Macleod
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was better than I anticipated. For librarians, this book can serve as a review of things we know already (or should have learned either in library school or somewhere along the way in our work). So, for librarians, it is a book that can be skimmed and reviewed as needed. Now, for the rest of the people who are not librarians or professional researchers, Mr. MacLeod brings a lot of knowledge to the table in a relatively compact book.

He covers the following:

*How to think like a researcher. Learning how to ask the right questions, but also learning how to know when you have found the answer.

*On Google, including some advanced techniques. This part does show the usual disadvantage of some books that present content about the Internet: they can quickly change or go out of date. Some of the Google features mentioned are either not there or they are about to be phased out, like iGoogle (the personalized web page component that Google is retiring). Also, Google has made it more difficult to find the advanced search options (getting to the actual advanced search screen is not easy, and he does not mention it in the book. I do not know if he just did not consider it important, or took it for granted). However, many of the tips on advanced commands you can use are pretty good.

*Stuff on finding information from other sources than the "usual" Google search. He looks at associations, business resources, government resources. This is a pretty good section that shows that not everything is on Google. In fact, if you are only relying on Google, you are missing a hell of a lot of information.

*How to find people. This was a mixed bag. Yes, you can find out many things by the digital footsteps people leave behind. However, getting to it may not be easy. Often, you have to pay to get specific information about people (say for things like background checks). Contrary to common myths, stalking someone is not as easy as it used to. It can be done, but it does take a lot of work and savvy, and as I said, you may have to pay. And that is a good point to make: not all the information is free, and MacLeod does point that out, highlighting some of the paid services that may be of interest or not.

*He also gives credit to the library and librarians, for in this age, they are the one place where you can get a lot of information for free plus you can get good research support. It does pay off to get a library card and to become friends with your local librarians.

So overall, for what the book claims to do, it is pretty good. It does provide good advice and information on how to find a variety of things. It is written in pretty easy to understand language, so the average person should be able to pick it up and get some things done. He even gives some sample exercises to help you practice what you learn. In conclusion, for librarians, this is mostly a review (if you paid attention in library school or at your workplace you paid attention to the older, experienced librarian). For lay people, this is a good place to learn a bit about research, what sources and places to use, and how to use them. It is not the be all, end all, but it is a pretty good start. I think the book does a lot to de-mistify the research process, and that is a good thing. I have no problem with people learning to do these things. I am all about empowering people, and I know that I will still have work since my patrons will always have research and information needs as well as be taught how to use resources and evaluate them. As a librarian, this is a book I would keep on my shelf both to review things now and then as well as to lend to people as needed.

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