SiT: Libraries and Google

SiT: Libraries and Google. Quote: “While I'm dismayed about your remarks on library databases (and I assume you're referring to databases from ProQuest, Ebsco, etc.), I think they do reflect the attitudes of many non-librarians.”

Comment: Well, indeed they do, and therein lies the problem.  I pretty much consider myself an expert in information literacy.  I've worked on our college team implementing it as a requirement for all our students and I know my way around boolean logic backwards and forwards.  It's not that I don't have the skills.  I really am making an efficiency judgement.

In my browser, I have a Google toolbar and a high-speed connection, so search results are perhaps 0.1 seconds away (if that).  Once I have my search results, I can make quality judgements, refine my searches as necessary, and access the full-text of what I need in about 1 second (I can always use the Google cache if the main site is not available).

Putting aside for the moment the question of whether what I've found meets my needs, let's contrast this experience with a search at a research library.  I'll avoid our library, but pick on Virginia Tech's instead.

If we assume that I'm at my desk, then the search box on the home page is not very useful to me, since it's their internal catalog and there's no full text there – good thing I know what “Addison” is, huh?  If I'm prepared to invest the time and visit the library this is obviously useful.  Anyway, let's assume that I'm searching for something on educational evaluation for online courses.  What is my next step?

Remembering that I'm at my desk, I think I'm going to look at the online resources section, although I could look at “Human and social sciences” if I wanted I suppose.

The critical thing is to recognize what happens next, regardless of which strategy I take.  I'm sure a librarian or information specialist could give a better terminology, but this is what goes through my head:

What should I click: article searching or electronic journals?  What is the difference?  Why is there a difference?  Isn't a reference database the same thing?  Aren't e-books part of the same picture?  Why do I have to make a choice?  Am I not going to find something whatever choice I make or miss something by the same token?

Let's assume that I do click for Article Searching.  Now what?  I have to scroll down through a list of  I'd guess, 50 or 100 databases and decide which database (usually databases – plural) might have something of interest, as well as the full text when I'm done.  This list includes lots of ambiguously-named databases (WebSPIRS?) that might be useful, but I don't know for sure if they are without more investigation.

If I'm an education insider, I should know some of the key databases (ERIC etc.), but wait, I'm not actually on campus.  Make sure you're set up for the library proxy (the what?!) or you're out of luck.  Sure, I know what a proxy is, but it's another road block.

At this point, I still haven't actually searched or found anything.  In a best case, scenario, assuming I know of the several databases that I'm going to use, it's going to take me several seconds, probably longer, just to get to a search screen.

We haven't even got to the horrors, vagaries and diversity of library database search engines yet.

Now, I imagine one response to this little tale is that sophisticated researchers require sophisticated tools.  I think this confuses simplicity, sophistication and usability.  Complete, well-organized, well-tagged services still need to be easy to use.  You don't expose your data models to users – it's akin to designing a web site based on your organizational chart.  You analyze what users need and give it to them.  What they need is a search tool embedded in their browser (if Google can do this, why can't libraries?) that searches all the resources available to them and returns a ranked list of results, with the full-text one click away.

Have I needled enough librarians yet?  [Serious Instructional Technology]

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