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A corner seems to have been turned …

October 14, 2009

I haven’t used a blog in a long time (more often these days turning to Twitter, Facebook etc), but this thought require s a little more real estate.  I’ve been noticing recently that reference desk queries have been relying more and more lately on Google as not only the starting point, but also as the primary tool. A real change in this behaviour seems to have coincided with the introduction of new library catalog. Rather than navigate (the sometimes less than friendly) system, students simply go to Google schoalr, type in terms and then link back to our system for holdings, etc.  While this has traditionally been considered to be a bad thing in libraries, I’m finding myself making this choice as well.  Fact is, faced with having to find an article I think about navigating our system to a level numerous links deep, or going to Google and typing things into a single box.  Considering the success rate with the single box, Google is winning. Information research has shown for decades that anyone will choose the simplest route to the answer even if the answer isn’t quite as good as through a more complex route.  Lately, the answer through the simple route has been just as good … and less clicking is involved … and its intuitive … and …

I guess an interaction today really made this obvious to me.  A student was looking for material on techniques for parents socializing autistic children.  We first went through commercial journal indexes and had limited success with the terms “autism” “technique” “parent” and “socialization”.  The articles coming up were not particularly relevent and it was clear that we’d have to start messing about with our choice of terms to refine the search. At a certain point I just decided to jump over to Google scholar to see what happened.  The same four terms provided articles right on the topic, beginning with those most relevant … it was just staring me right in the face … this was a better route.  The student was very happy and able to link back to our holdings, and I was left feeling like I’d somehow cheated … I even told her to make sure that she does use the commercial indexes at some point in her searching (but I’m not sure why …).  

I keep seeing library science articles in my mind suggesting that we should be forming more efficient search queries to get better results, or that there’s some reason for suspicion of the sources found in Google.  In short … I have no desire to refine my search if Google is going to retrieve relevent material with the searches that I’ve already done, and I’m going back through our system to actually view the material, so I assume these are decent sources. (plus … really … I’m quite capable of figuring that part out).

The simplest route to the answer …

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