GO WHERE IT IS, PART II
When I first began writing ExLibris, I set forth my rules of information. The first one was, GO WHERE IT IS (http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib4.html). It still is. You see, knowing how to play nifty tricks with search engines is one reason librarians are good at finding answers on the net. But I think the real reason we succeed so often is because we know where to go in the first place; we understand how information works, who produces it, and where is the most likely place to search for anything.
When people ask us a question, we automatically start by figuring out who would produce that piece of information. If somebody wants to know what cities have the biggest roach problem, I head immediately to a full-text database of business magazines, figuring that the people who might have an answer are the people who will make money by knowing it: the pesticide manufacturers and their advertisers. They lay out lots of money for market surveys, and the results of these are often reported on in business and marketing magazines like American Demographics
I just did a couple of workshops for the Delaware Instructional Technology Conference, and one of the questions that came up was a standard research project their students are asked to do on Delaware watersheds. I immediately began itemizing the agencies that logically might collect information about those watersheds: the U.S. Geological Survey. The Army Corps of Engineers. The Delaware Department of the Environment. The U.S. Environmentmental Protection Agency. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
I sensed a theme emerging here, so I immediately went to Searchgov (http://searchgov.com/), an engine which searches sites from federal, state and local governments, fed in the term "Delaware watershed," and got an immense collection of documents from all levels of government.
But I also figured this was not just a policy question but a science question as well, so I also went to SciSeek (http://sciseek.com/) and asked the question there. There was overlap with the SearchGov results, but there were also a lot of unique results from scientific and engineering sites here.
Since this topic would be written about by researchers in science journals, the next step was going to full-text article databases. In EbscoHost, I searched simultaneously through MasterFile Premier, Newspaper Source, and Academic Search Elite, and found hundreds of articles, not only from science journals, but from regional newspapers and magazines like Fly Fisherman.
I repeat: librarians are not just good at internet searching because we understand how to play word games. We're good because we know where we need to go and the quickest routes for getting there; we are equipped not just with compasses but with mental maps of the information landscape.
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NEEDED ON THE NET
I have identified one of the lacunae on the Internet, a hole that needs to be filled. As best I can tell there is no clearinghouse that links in libraries' online recommended reading lists. There is a clearinghouse for library instruction information, at LOEX (http://www.emich.edu/~lshirato/loex.html), and there are clearinghouses for Internet tutorials and for acceptable use policies, but there seems to be no central place where we can share our "If you liked Robert Ludlum, you'll like . . ." lists.
This would be an immensely valuable service, first because other librarians will have thought of topics or books that never would have occurred to us, like golf novels, or war novels, or academic murder mysteries. Secondly, many of us who are working in very small libraries, where we have very little time to generate such lists, would nevertheless love to point our users to them.
I have long thought that one of the useful things library school students could be assigned to do as projects would be to identify unmet needs on the net and build a web page. I hereby offer this idea to some enterprising student. If any of you take me up on the offer, let me know, and I'll publicize your work on Neat New Stuff.
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It appears that, quite often, our users don't actually know what their question is. Librarians are good at solving this problem. Through a series of negotiations back and forth, using problem-solving skills, librarians help users learn what it is they really want. A note from our CEO said he had seen a number of our testimonials and commented, "What is striking is the common thread through the testimonials. People wonder how you know what they wanted when they didn't even know themselves."
Eugenie Prime. "The Spider, the Fly and the Internet." E-Content, June, 2000
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Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.
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