On Search, Students, and Libraries

As a librarian I was happy to read Jim Hedger's post, Hey Yahoo, Google and MSN - School Kids Use Search Engines Too: where he discusses that the large web engines should do more to explain/ teach their tools and services to students. Jim, you're right. I've said this time after time not only here on the SEW Blog but also on ResourceShelf. Heck, just this week I made this point when I wrote about Answers.com's new toolkit for teachers. I've also made this point directly to the search companies.

In fact, user education is not only important for students but for all users including the teachers who likely only know about one search engine. Education combines alerting people to the service along with basic training, taking minutes not hours, about how to use the search tool to its fullest advantage. A LITTLE education can go along way. Btw, education is also needed to teach students about how to judge the quality, accuracy, and authority of the info they find on the web.

Allow me to make a few additional points.

  • My profession, librarianship, has always had marketing issues. I believe working with search companies would be a win-win.
  • It's also crucial to do a better job educating educators about what's available.
  • My profession has also done, IMHO, a poor job in letting people, including students, know that the world of the library resources and more importantly, librarians, know reach far beyond the library building. For example, most libraries offer remotely accessible FREE, FULL TEXT, databases that have become much easier to use. Many of these databases have become much easier to use and can uncover great info, quickly. However, students and the public can't use them if they don't know about them. Jim, take a look at what's available for free from the Calgary Public Library. Wow! Knowing about (the biggest challenge) and then using these databases can really save students (your nephews) time and provide rapid access to high-quality info not accessible easily or entirely in web engines. It's all free! More about these services, here and here. Most libraries also offer FREE "virtual reference" services, 24x7. Chat, in real-time with a librarian and get help. More about that here.
  • Librarians have been hard at work helping to organize web resources. I would encourage your nephews to take a look at great non-commercial web directories like the Librarians' Index to the Internet. Quality resources vs. quantity. I've said many times that the large web engines should work with the LII and other directories to take advantage of these tools. This post offers links and background to other directories.
  • About finding books in school libraries that you write about. I don't have first hand knowledge about how school libraries are organized in Calgary but I'm betting that they still use the Dewey Decimal System. HOWEVER, searching for books in a school library is done by keywords using what's called an OPAC (online public access catalog). You use actual words to find materials just like any web engine. I try to explain (briefly) library classification (Dewey Decimal) and "verbal" subject headings, what's searched on when you do a subject search, here
  • .

    The only one they knew about was Yahoo and according to Tyler (who really is quite bright), ?Yahoo doesn?t give me much information but Google gives me pages and pages.? Hearing this, I tried to prompt him further by telling him that Yahoo claimed to have several billion more documents and objects in its database than Google did. Stone faced silence. ?Uncle Jeaeem", Tyler said, ?everyone knows Google is the best.?

  • What your nephews have to say is what I also here over and over again from many people, not only students. This belief that Google is always the best, that Yahoo's interface is too busy (they likely don't know about this interface), and that they have little working knowledge of other tools and services. For example, many people have the idea that the Ask Jeeves of 2005 (good and getting better) is the same service that was available in 1999 (very poor).

It seems like that web engines, specialty tools, and the library community need to do a better job working together and teaching students, teachers, and the public about what they have to offer.