Monday, April 9, 2012

Search Like a Pro

When you look at the make-up of your library, what is the ratio of professional staff?  Most libraries will staff only several MLS holders (usually in a management position of some type) and yet, to the average customer, everyone who works in the library is a librarian.  So what does this mean for a library trainer?  It means that selected bits of wisdom learned in Library School should be passed on to those staff who are engaged most with customers.

In the age of Google searches, the art of the Boolean operators has almost died - except in the world of libraries.  Using Boolean operators in the library's catalog and databases are almost necessities in order to retrieve the results desired, but I've found many coworkers resorting to natural language searches that just do not seem to deliver the goods.  Now, we can argue that said databases and catalogs should be more user friendly for the "non-librarian," and I would definitely agree, but this is just splitting hairs.  Until the day comes when catalogs and databases have been transformed, library staffers should be continually trained on the skills of searching.

If you are unfamiliar with Boolean operators, they are the use of the words "AND," "OR," and "NOT" to be used with search terms in order to retrieve query results.  Based on Boole's logic, databases use an algorithm to search multiple terms based on conjunction (AND,) dysjunction (OR,) and negation (NOT.) Just as Google can be a librarian/teacher's worst nightmare, the fact remains that Google itself employs a  Boolean algorithm which converts natural language into the Boolean terms.  Because most databases and catalogs are not as sophisticated as Google, it is important to know how these operators work in order to maximize results.

Of course, there are other factors that go into a good search (i.e. knowing which phrases to use and how to expand or narrow results) but mastering Boolean operators can effectively save searching time - and time is valuable.

Perhaps a fun searching contest among staff will help do the trick.  I highly recommend A Google a Day for a no cost, easy, and effective training.  Be careful - it's addictive!

3 comments:

DeAnna Teske said...

Sometimes it's not even about searching. Just figuring out how to get to the database and use the interface can be frustrating. http://bit.ly/HxVdLj

Sue Beckmann said...

Some basic training and then a contest? Hm...I wonder if there will be a prize?? Thanks, Deanna!

DeAnna Teske said...

I wish! It looks like even Google has problems with their advanced searches . . . http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/03/29/BUEH1NRK17.DTL