Monday, September 28, 2009

Google to Teach Library Search Techniques?

I am contemplating using this kind of thing as exercise or demo for my next batch of "Introduction to Searching" workshops (as well as for a self-paced information literacy tutorial we are revamping.

One of the connections I seek to make when teaching is the importance of early search strategy steps such as gathering a list of keywords and combining them in such a way that you get relevant results. In other words, "making the sale" to students to invest some time and thought into brainstorming/crafting a useful search strategy/search strings. I never use the term "Boolean," but I do talk about basic search techniques such as AND, OR, double quotes, etc.

Below are some screen shots of results from Google and ProQuest showing the differences between typing a whole search topic or sentence into a search box (which a lot of our students do) versus ones that have been more properly formatted so that a search tool will understand what you are looking for and hopefully give you more relevant results:

Google search 1 (unformatted): 3.9 million results

Google search 2 (formatted): 17,200 results

Library Database search 1 (unformatted): 14 results

Library database search 2 (formatted): 160 results:

The complexity arises in the contradiction that an unformatted Google search gets you way too many results, while an unformatted library database search will sometimes get you too few (if any) results or too many (i.e., EBSCO will default to their SmartText search if none are found). I'm not sure if taking the time to show these differences will make it more confusing or less for students as to why they should format their searches, especially since more and more vendors are making it possible to put in entire sentences and at least get some results...

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