A PLEA FROM THE SCOUT REPORT
The invaluable Scout Report, [http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/report/sr/current/index.html] along with its offspring, the Scout Reports for Social Sciences, for Science and Engineering, and for Business and Economics, is coming to the end of its NSF funding. The editors are pursuing grants and other funding options, but would welcome our support in the form of letters explaining the value Scout Report has for us.
Susan Calcari, Director of the Internet Scout Project, says:
We are confident we will find the right funding source, but your brief input on any or all of the three points below will make our job easier and help us to meet our goal faster.
We are asking for your help, as our valued readers, in three ways:
1. Please let us know how you use the reports and why you find them useful. Tell us why you think the reports should continue to be funded. While we can list many reasons why the reports should continue, we are sure that you know even better than we do, and we'd like to hear it "in your own words." This is critical information for us and for our potential funding sources.
2. We would like to hear any ideas you may have regarding potential sources that may be open to proposals for funding of publications such as the scout reports. We have several proposals already submitted or in production, but any further ideas you have would be very helpful.
3. Tell us what you think we should be doing in the future. What would you find most helpful in the way of improvements to or expansion of the scout reports? What kinds of "resource discovery" services would make a real difference to you?
This is the answer I sent:
Your regular alerting service is important because of the rapidity with which new sites appear, and the overabundance of information on the net, much of it of highly questionable quality. You review nothing but high-quality, high-content sources from scholarly or governmental sources; your reviews not only tell us what kinds of information we can find there, but also examine the way the information displays, the way it's organized and retrievable, and the technology required to make maximum use of it.
The other extremely valuable part of your service is the Signpost archive of past reviews, searchable not only by keyword, but by LC or Dewey as well, an excellent starting point for anybody trying to organize courses and point students to the best web resouces by topic.
When I was an academic librarian, I created my own guide to the Best Information on the Net for our faculty and students, with pages for every academic discipline we taught. The Scout Report and Signpost were among my chief means of finding key web resources for each of those disciplines -- especially the ones I didn't understand all that well.
As for what they might do in the future to improve their service, I just asked that they keep on doing exactly what they're already doing. If you value the work done by the editors of the Internet Scout Project as much as I do, I hope you will send your answers to these questions to .
Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but, unlike charity, it should end there.
Clare Booth Luce
REPORT ON ERIC USERS' STRATEGIES
There's a new report on "The Quality of Researchers' Searches of the ERIC Database," by Scott Hertzberg and Lawrence Rudner, available online at http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v7n25.html, that presents some interesting findings and leaves me with a number of questions.
The study's results parallel what we have learned from other studies of end users of databases and search engines: users asked simple one or two word queries, and rarely used boolean operators, the online thesaurus, or the "Find similar" feature. There was a low level of persistence: median time spent searching was 6 minutes, few users followed up initial searches with modified search queries, and few of them examined more than 5-6 of the citations in their results. Many of them never got past the first screen of results -- a particular flaw, one would think, in a database such as ERIC where results are not presented in any kind of ranked order but in reverse chronological order.
AND YET, when ERIC followed up with a short survey asking why users were not making use of the Find similar" feature, 80% of the respondents "told us they were able to find what they wanted on the first page of hits."
Now that opens up a whole lot of questions:
- Were they easily satisfied because they weren't all that interested in the question? Was it was for an assignment they didn't much care about? Were they just going through the motions?
- Did they not have a clear idea of what a good answer would be?
- Did they not really expect any answers to be there at all? Were they simply grateful to find ANYTHING?
- Did they assume that they shouldn't HAVE to do anything fancy in order to get the results they wanted, and that the machines would somehow discern their needs, answer them, and present the answers in ranked order?
Do they assume that computers are magic? That they're always right? That the answers they give are the only answers they COULD give?
These are questions we need answers for. After all, we can teach users how to phrase queries, and how to use features like a thesaurus and "Find similar." We can even teach them how to evaluate the quality as well as the quantity of the citations their search produces.
But not if users assume that what they got is as good as they can expect. Not if they reject the idea that a sophisticated search system requires some sophistication from them. And for sure not if they don't care about the answers because the question they asked was not THEIR question but one their instructors imposed on them.
It may be that the only time users can be expected to analyze results carefully and modify their search strategies is when the results matter to them intensely, as in online job searching, hobbies, competitive intelligence, dissertation research, and such. And if so, perhaps when they are roused to say "There MUST be more than this!" is the point at which information professionals can offer guidance, classes, tutorials, and such. There is such a thing as scattering our seeds of wisdom when the soil is tilled and damp and waiting for them.
You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:
Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999.