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June 4, 2007

Search engine 'mindshare'

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Top 3 online scientific search resources: librarians VS scientists. Click for larger view
According to a 2004 presentation at a National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services (NFAIS) conference, there's a huge discrepancy between librarian's percetions of a "good" online science resource as compared to scientist's perceptions. Why is this? I have a few theories... Read on.

Theory one: the path of least resistance is the path most researchers will take. This one's pretty straightforward. If a resource is easy to use and still returns acceptable results, it stands to reason that users will gravitate to this "easier" resource

Theory two: library information is scattered amongst multiple databases each with it's own interface. Think about it... Even at a relatively small school like Seton Hill, we have multiple interfaces to deal with. Imagine a large library at the likes of Penn State, Ohio State, University of Michingan, etc. Timothy Burke, history professor at Swarthmore, in his piece called "Burn the Catalog" offers the following comments relevant to these multiple interfaces:

Electronic catalogs, wherever you go in the academic world, have become a horrible crazy-quilt assemblage of incompatible interfaces and vendor-constrained listings. Working through Tripodís article and specialized subject indices, in a relatively small collection, you still have to navigate at least five completely different interfaces for searching.

Theory three: Google and Yahoo! not only work, they work well (especially for scientific and technical information). My gosh..... Could this be? I think so... I've heard many librarians criticize Google from the direction of the number of hits that a typical search returns -- "A search on 'hurricane' returns 52,800,000 results! How can we make sense of that???!!!". I would argue that the number of hits is irrelevant -- most people don't ever go beyond the first results screen anyhow. I'm more impressed with the fact that among the first 10 results, there are links to the National Hurricane Center, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), and NOAA (Natrional Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) websites.

While I'm certainly not encouraging users to rely exclusively on Google, Yahoo! et al, I do believe there are some lessons to be learned here.

Posted by AnthonyMcMullen at June 4, 2007 10:32 AM

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