September 29, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Most reliable search tool could be your librarian

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Search engines say the situation isn't so dire. The general public is getting more sophisticated in its search skills, said Tim Mayer, senior director of product management on Yahoo's search team.

"The amount of keywords people are entering is growing" to between two and three words, he said. "Search engine quality is improving and people are generally finding what they're looking for more often."

However, without some universal agreement on categorizing content, Web searches will always be lacking, some experts say.

"On the Web, every word is a keyword. It's such a mess," said Jason Strauss, head librarian at the Wright Institute, a graduate school of psychology in Berkeley, Calif. "When I use Google Search I almost always limit my search to the top-level domains dot-edu or dot-org. They usually have higher-quality information."

In addition, search engines also are only offering up a fraction of all the information out there. There is still the relatively untapped so-called "deep Web" of information behind corporate firewalls and password-protected Web sites. To get to the information, people have to know where the sites are and often have to pay to subscribe.

One such popular site is LexisNexis, which lets users search more than 36,000 news and public record sites, and other sources. Another is WestLaw, which provides access to legal records.

The definitive index and abstract database for psychology academics is PsycInfo, which provides access to journals, conference proceedings and other relevant information and allows users to search specific fields like "author" and "title," Strauss said. Keywords are selected by editors from a set list of terms.

"You end up with the ability to do a 'perfect search.' You get everything about the subject and nothing that is not related to it," Strauss said. "Using the Web, you are trying to think of how other people are phrasing things" to come up with keywords, which leads to mixed results, he added.

Even the federal government is addressing the Web search problem; it is trying to make it easier for citizens to track government spending. President Bush signed a bill into law this week that calls for the creation of an online database that will let people type in names of companies and states, for example, to search for government grants and contracts. The information is already on the Web, but people don't know where to find it.

A lot of people don't know that they can get access to much of the walled-off information in specialized databases for free if they have a public library card, said Price, of Ask.com and ResourceShelf.

Other helpful sites are the Librarians Internet Index, which offers quick lists of carefully vetted, reliable Web sites, the Internet Public Library and Infomine, a collection of scholarly resources on the Internet, according to Price.

With the advent of the Web and search engines, people's interaction with libraries has changed. While the number of reference questions at California public libraries has been declining, the difficulty of the questions has increased, said Ira Bray, a technology consultant at the California State Library.

Gone are the days of calling or visiting the library to find out a famous person's birthplace or the gross national product for the U.S. in 1972--you can get that in two seconds on Google. But you'll need more than a search engine to figure out, for example, what factors were at play in the growth of the U.S. economy that year, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which conducts research on the impact of the Internet on Americans.

"The idea of the 1950s librarian, that's outdated," said Sarah Houghton-Jan, information Web services manager at the San Mateo County Library in Northern California. "You find people who are expert at searching the Web and using online tools; high-level information experts instead of someone who just stamps books at the checkout desk."

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24 comments

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Present Search is a Big waste of Time
This article is an eye opener for all those who are addicted to Google. Search and Search but no Reliable Results.

And even when we do get something, we have no way of comparing, sorting, analysing or saving to a data format.

That is where a company like NetAlter may offer hope to researchers and information seekers. This company claims to be developing an artificial intelligent search engine which will have pre as well as post search operations and incorporate the latest standards such as semantic web.

I have dumped Google long back and now use Vivisimo Search. That is why I said earlier, people get addicted to search engines.

I also have my own online bookmark organizer, www.lookupthis.com where I save my search links so I do not have to search them again.
Posted by guyfrom2006 (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sorry Google!
I completely agree with your stance on Google. When it comes to obtaining reliable information I can not always trust google's results! I do not think that you HAVE to go to a librarian for good information but it certainly could help if that is the most convinient option. There are also plenty of sites and people (like this guy) that work to uphold the integrity of information/research/facts. When it comes to common, everyday things like recipes, games, sports info ect. Google is great but if you are doing research find something more reliable!
Posted by nickmanc86 (33 comments )
Link Flag
Librarians think very highly of themselves
It's my experience that librarians have this very self-important view of themselves. They speak as if they are some sort of "guardians of privacy" and need to help us peons find information that we are too dumb to get for ourselves.

The left-wing American Library Association is their front organization and often takes the same positions as the liberal ACLU and terrorists.
Posted by fafafooey (171 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ummmm.....
How did this turn into a political argument.. are we honestly going to throw in the term "left-wing" when talking about Libraries.... ?
Posted by nickmanc86 (33 comments )
Link Flag
We are great people
Hopefully your librarian does think highly of her/himself. We do a great job for a lot of people of bring a human element into the world of technology. In a world in which a lot of people charge for sharing knowledge, your local school or public librarian is there to provide service many hours of the day for any topic you want to research. There is a cost to this service in tax dollars, but the savings to the public in time and money far outweighs the tax dollar spent.

Students who attend schools with school librarians do better on the tests that we use to measure their success. (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.lrs.org/impact.asp" target="_newWindow">http://www.lrs.org/impact.asp</a>)

As you can tell from my log in name, I am a librarian. This is a biased viewpoint, but I wouldn't be in a profession if I didn't feel like I brought a fantastic service to people.

In response to being left-wing and a guardian of privacy. Neither applies to me. I am a guardian of a person have the right to their privacy, definitely right-wing tendacy politically, and the closest to terrorism I get is that I will want to take my computer on the airplane when I travel next.
Posted by aklibraian1 (1 comment )
Link Flag
Try ChaCha - Human Powered Search
Want a *person* to help you with your search? Try ChaCha... www.chacha.com.

Enjoy!

Best,

Auri Rahimzadeh
Author, Hacking the PSP (www.hackingpsp.com)
Author, Geek My Ride
ChaCha Guide
Posted by AuriRahimzadeh (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is what I think should happen
Have all questions/inquires redirected to the wikipedia web site, then have a link to a network of libraries all over America, where a person can borrow a book about the subject at the nearest local library. The combination of wikipedia and the library would be a great resource for anyone researching for a report or a screenplay...

Mark McLaughlin - marknetproductionsentrance.blogspot.com -
Fedora Core User/Mac User/Screenwriter
Posted by HudsonMan34 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is already happening
Actually, you can kind of do that now. You can search WorldCat through Google (and probably other search engines). I just tried to find a Paula Deen cookbook. I typed in Paula Deen and Worldcat. The third result was a WorldCat listing for a Paula Deen cookbook. I typed in my zip code and - zing! there's a list of all the libraries in my area with that book! It even tells me if that book is available! Wow! Aren't libraries wonderful!?
Posted by dweiler (1 comment )
Link Flag
ASKALibrarian
There are links on most library websites and state government websites to a service that is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by experienced professional librarians.

In Florida, it's Ask a Librarian, in Massachusetts it's MASSAnswers; in Illinois ASKAWAY and so on.

Check your local or college library website to see if they offer a "real" time or virtual reference service.
Posted by debnumbers (2 comments )
Link Flag
Wikipedia
Wikipedia is a good starting point for research. Wikipedia articles usually include several links to good sources of information. (I didn't say here: "rely on Wikipedia". Only that it's a good way to get the right links when web search provides too much noise. My Son's teachers now ask for "two sources" in homework, because otherwise the homework assignment is interpreted bu kids as: "go to Wikipedia, copy, paste, print, submit"...)
Posted by hadaso (468 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Librarians Internet Index Results Are Awful!!!
I'm on the lii.org homepage, click on 'Technology' under the 'Computers' header, and the results are a total joke. This is worse than the old Yahoo! directory. This is what they display:

Preservation 101: An Internet Course on Paper
In eight modules, with self-testing quizzes, this very well designed online tutorial covers archiving...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.nedcc.org/p101cs/p101wel.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.nedcc.org/p101cs/p101wel.htm</a>

Yahoo! Phone Numbers and Addresses
A directory of websites providing phone numbers, addresses, and other contact information...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://dir.yahoo.com/Reference/Phone_Numbers_and_Addresses/" target="_newWindow">http://dir.yahoo.com/Reference/Phone_Numbers_and_Addresses/</a>

Let's Talk Turkey
View Thanksgiving-themed trademarks and patents, such as turkey-calling devices, an apparatus for cranberry harvesting, mechanisms for turkey...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ahrpa/opa/kids/themes/kidtheme11.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ahrpa/opa/kids/themes/kidtheme11.htm</a>

These pages are totally unrelated to Computer Technology. Librarians should get over the fact that online search engines do a better job than they can and should spend their time helping people better use existing tools.
Posted by dannyclinch (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Results Really Awful? or Awful searching?
Hey, dannyclinch, I did exactly the same thing that you report doing and I think the problem is not with lii.org, it's with your search technique. Maybe you need a librarian to help you. :) After clicking on technology under computers, try selecting the "more subtopics" link in the left frame menu. You'll see a long list of specific subtopics relating to computer technology. Then select the one you are most interested in. I picked Wireless Systems, the last one on the list. Here are the links listed: Most Unwired Cities Survey; Marconi Collection; Text Messaging: More Than Just an Add-on to Cell Phone Plans; CTIA: The Wireless Association; Mobile Computing: How to Find Hotspots; The Wi-Fi-FreeSpot" Directory; WiFi 411; Mobile Phone/SMS/Instant Messaging Research; "Rifle" Sniffs Out Vulnerability in Bluetooth Devices; and Bluetooth: FAQ &#38; Knowledge Base. Hierarchical directories work best when you "drill down" through the levels by selecting subject links that get gradually more and more specific. And, did you even try searching the entire collection? A search for "wireless technology" pulled up all of the above listed sites, plus a few more relating to business applications of wireless tech. The advantage over general search engines is that you will get less quantity, better quality.
Posted by Realistickall (1 comment )
Link Flag
Librarians Internet Index Results Are Awful!!!
If you look at Librarians' Internet Index, the new site mentioned in this article (lii.org), the results are a total joke. It's worse than the old Yahoo! directories.

For example, if you click on 'Technology' under the 'Computers' header, the first three results displayed are:

Preservation 101: An Internet Course on Paper Preservation
In eight modules, with self-testing quizzes, this very well designed online tutorial covers archiving; environmental, biological, and mechanical causes of deterioration; cleaning and tools of the trade...
URL: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.nedcc.org/p101cs/p101wel.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.nedcc.org/p101cs/p101wel.htm</a>

Yahoo! Phone Numbers and Addresses
A directory of websites providing phone numbers, addresses, and other contact information. Topics include area codes, businesses, celebrities...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://dir.yahoo.com/Reference/Phone_Numbers_and_Addresses/" target="_newWindow">http://dir.yahoo.com/Reference/Phone_Numbers_and_Addresses/</a>

Let's Talk Turkey
View Thanksgiving-themed trademarks and patents, such as turkey-calling devices, an apparatus for cranberry harvesting, mechanisms for turkey cooking, and a station for turkey carving...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ahrpa/opa/kids/themes/kidtheme11.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ahrpa/opa/kids/themes/kidtheme11.htm</a>

What does this have to do with Computers or Technology?

Librarian's have a hard time admitting that their need has been replaced by the search engines. Search engines are designed to be easy to use, so all the librarian training on the hard-to-use databases is irrelevant. As for this new Librarians' Internet Index, it seems silly to put energy into builiding a new search site - instead they should focus on helping people use existing tools - or work with the big popular search sites to better integrate their services with them.

-Dan
Posted by dannyclinch (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
you are the silly one
Danny, it's hard to take you seriously when you can't even write sentences that make sense. "Librarian's have a hard time admitting that their need has been replaced": what is this need of the librarians? Or are you trying to say "the need for librarians."

Furthermore, the Librarians Internet Index is in effect a search engine. Even though it's a better search engine than most, the purpose of this article was to talk about the quality of help you can get from a librarian (a person, not a search engine).

Please learn to think and write logically before annoying people with your tiresome comments.
Posted by coagula (1 comment )
Link Flag
Different Quality Levels...
As with ALL jobs, some people are better than others. Librarians at the local public library may or may not be able to point you in the right direction to find an obscure journal article or set of information. Librarians at most larger universities can work far greater wonders... I'm guessing the website just doesn't have good librarians working on it.
Posted by HecticDialectics (38 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Different Quality Levels...
I agree with this comment. Truth is most librarians do not get paid
an awful lot of money for their expertise and many who organize
websites like lii.org may be doing it as a voluntary service to try to
direct people to good sources. Colleges, many public school
libraries and good public libraries have access to subscription
databases that can access full text journal articles to help with
serious research inquiries....
As for political bent, liberal does not always imply lack of common
sense...and we are not ALL liberals.
Posted by librarydiva (1 comment )
Link Flag
Librarians Index to the Internet
I think that you are mis-understanding the purpose of LII. It is not a search engine, it is more along the lines of a browsable directory.
The idea isn't to offer a comprehensive look at every site, but rather to index vetted sites. It offers a comprehensive look at different resources and indexes them in a way that the search engines can't. In other words, you are better off googleing if you want a massive amount of info on something like "technology". But you can go to the index (like the index in the back of a book) to find where the specific information you are searching for is located.
Indexing is incredibly painstaking work and the librarians at LII are excellent at finding and categorizing information.
One of the problems that the ease of searching has led to is "the arrogance of ignorance". People become so used to finding things easily that they have no idea what information they are missing.
And I have to say to "rethinking MLK guy". You make an excellent point about looking at all the sides of Dr. King. However, sometimes people represent facts because of their opinions. And it is often people seeking promote an agenda. This is another reason librarians are important in schools. They can train students in informational discernment so that they can recognize bias in the quagemire of information that they find themselves plunged into.
I love the internet and I think it is a miracle, but it is also very difficult to navigate and librarians can be excellent guides.
Posted by ipsofecteau (1 comment )
Link Flag
Speaking of searching ...
Here's another amazing thing which has been found in Google Earth, the best place to search for stuff in this world:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://regmedia.co.uk/2006/07/19/huangyangtan_wide.jpg/" target="_newWindow">http://regmedia.co.uk/2006/07/19/huangyangtan_wide.jpg/</a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/showthreaded.php/Cat/0/Number/484568/" target="_newWindow">http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/showthreaded.php/Cat/0/Number/484568/</a>

That's the place in the middle of the desert where the Chinese Army has constructed a scale-model replica of the entire region of Aksai Chin (occupied by China since the 1962 war with India). At 1:500, it's still 700 by 900 meters big ( = several football fields). Next to it is a base with dozens of troop transporters seen coming and going. The duplicate shows everything: rivers, lakes, roads and snow-capped mountains. It's basically a landscape within a landscape.

The problem is that nobody has been able to figure out the function of this thing. The world's biggest miniature golf course, perhaps? China's own Area 51? That's why it's the subject of so much discussion in the blogosphere.

Any ideas?
Posted by tania3000 (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Librarians 24/7 online
Many states now have librarians available 24/7 to assist the public with their online research. We've taken the reference desk to the Internet. Here in Pennsylvania, it's AskHerePA.org. Staff assist users with Internet searches and explain how to reach the "deep web" licenses resources libraries have purchased for their customers.
PA Librarian
Posted by dbelanger (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Information and Librarian
Where there is light,there are no secrets.
That's where librarian come in.Most People in my country(albania)spend much time evaluating the source of the material,they think that are replacing librarian
Bujar Kocani
Posted by bujar (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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