Library Teaches Search – More Instruction Needed

June 22, 2009

My recollection is that libraries taught search as far back at 1980. I recall that either database vendors would run demonstrations or that librarians skilled in the use of online would provide guidance to those who asked. I recall running a class in ABI/INFORM at Chicago Public Library and there was an overflow crowd of both staff and research minded patrons. I was delighted, therefore, to see an article in the Sacramento Bee that described the Sutter Library’s classes in finding health and medical information online. The class is a reminder to me that:

  1. Librarians and information professionals often know how to search and have an interest in sharing that knowledge
  2. Patrons are smart enough to know that despite the marketing hype and the pundits’ assertions that search is a “done deal” additional instruction attracts people and finds its way into The Sacramento Bee

We have a long way to go before information professionals will be relics of a long gone time. The people who tell me that they “know how to search” and “can locate almost anything online” are kidding themselves. I think I am a reasonably good researcher. But if you spend time monitoring how I find information, you will learn quickly that I turn to experts who make my search skills look primitive. Even my nifty Overflight system pales with the type of information that my research team generates by:

  • Knowing what content is located where
  • Understanding the editorial method behind or absent from certain online systems
  • Leveraging hard-to-manipulate resources such as information from government repositories, specialized services, and individual experts.

I would like to see more libraries move aggressively into online instruction, market those programs, and raise the level of expertise. Most of the people who claim to be experts at search are clueless about how bad their skills are. Among the worst offenders are self appointed search experts who have trouble figuring out when something is likely to be baloney and when something is just plain wrong. Enterprise search, content management, and text mining are three disciplines where better research will be most beneficial in my opinion. Then we need critical thinking skills. Schools have dropped the ball. Maybe libraries can help in this area as well? Search procurement teams will be well served if the team has one or more librarians in the huddle.

Stephen Arnold, June 22, 2009

Comments

10 Responses to “Library Teaches Search – More Instruction Needed”

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  4. Stephen E. Arnold on June 27th, 2009 2:14 pm

    Answer Maven,

    Let me be clear. I want more assertiveness from information professionals. I want those with degrees in information science, library science, and other core disciplines to be involved in search, indexing, taxonomies. I am tired of people with degrees in Food Science yapping about how a term list will revolutionize their organization’s search system. Eat a protein bar. Push aggressively. Search will be better when there are more information professionals and fewer power puff degree people on procurement teams.

    Stephen Arnold, June 27, 2009

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