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musing on search behavior

January 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Posted to…oh gosh, I don’t remember, one of the many, many list servs I’m on, was a link to Truth be Told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in a Digital Age. It is a fascinating study.  What struck me was that nothing much has actually changed.

OK, yes, students are seeking information online BUT their first resource is still family/friends. This has always been true. The “phone a friend” option has been popular since Hector was a pup (as an old friend used to say). If you look down to the core of the information seeking behavior, the root is the same. The places have changed but the way we start hasn’t. We ask someone we think will know and move along from there.

I remember when I first learned about Usenet and BITNET (remember them? Oh Lord, I am old).  I remember going to one of the computer science professors and asking for instructions on how to use them and being told “there is none”. What? There were no instructions on how to use this incredible resource? This was in the days before Mosiac, back when we used “archie” or “veronica” to “gopher” things. It was incomprehensible to me that no instructions or manual existed but it was true. It was trial and error and everyone learned on their own.

Did you notice? I went to a live person to try to find out how to use something…My information seeking was to find someone…

User study-ish

June 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Yesterday I conducted a very unofficial and hugely informal user test to see how the young ones search. I explained to my subject that there were no wrong answers, I just wanted to see and learn how non-professionals search. I’m way too far removed from the experience; as with cataloging I cannot help but know the path to follow. The following is what happened [note I am not naming names because that makes it seem so much more official]

Subject was (and is, I suppose) a recent college graduate.  I provided a topic and asked “please find two peer reviewed articles and one book that you might use as a source as if you were writing a paper on the impact of Jimmy Carter’s presidency”.  I asked “please go to your library website to start the search”.

Subject went to unnamed university library website, logged in [yay still worked after graduating!] and put in search terms. What search terms? Subject typed “jimmy carter impact” in the search box provided. No Boolean, no truncation. Subject did not use any of the limiters available (such as ‘limit to peer reviewed’). Results were quickly scanned. Anything of interest went into a new browser window to review. At one point subject stumbled on google scholar and asked “WHERE HAS THIS BEEN THE LAST FOUR YEARS?”  I explained the history, basically been around since 2004. Groans met my explanation, subject noted “knowing this would have been very useful!”.

I watched the subject go outside the library website for each item of interest. Subject took any citation of interest (actually, just the title) to the open web to find it. Once found, subject scanned the content quickly to see if it would answer her “impact of jimmy carter’s presidency”. Subject never varied search terms nor used any other tool on the library site.

I asked “what does peer reviewed mean?”  Subject noted this meant “a scholarly article”.  Uhm, yeah, sort of …

I asked “if you had to cite an article found in APA style, how would you do it?” . Subject went to a new browser window and opened the Purdue OWL site, explaining this was the site used since high school.

As we finished, I showed the subject the features on the unnamed university library site where the limiters, citation builder, etc. all reside. I noted these are all within the areas the search began but were skipped/ignored. I further explained that all the full text that had been ‘discovered’ on the open web were due to the library purchase – because the subject logged in to the library website, the proxy took effect and full text was found. Subject was astonished and wondered why this was not shown to students. I asked if they had any library instruction – “well in one class we were shown JSTOR”. I asked why the library site was not used more, subject said “I’ve just always done it like this”.

Now, is this typical? I have no idea. I just asked one person to do this and had no formal method of testing. It does make me wonder though and and pushes me to the belief that library instruction needs to be part of the school experience – from kindergarten on up really, with new bits and parts each year to build upon, like we do with grammar, math, etc…

 

Search, the Internet, and me

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

On the NGC4LIB list, James Weinheimer posted a link to an article in the New York Times, The Dirty Little Secrets of Search.  The article both scares and fascinates me.  I sort of figured something was going on with search since I would get high hits for companies that had nothing to do (not really) with the object of my search. [and no, I shan’t name the company so it won’t get additional hits but it is big and has a red circular logo…]

Another article “How the Internet Gets Inside Us“, this from the New Yorker, was also posted on the NGC4LIB list but this time by B.J. Sloan. I think I am a Ever-Waser, based on the description in the article. I am cautiously optimistic. Actually, in general I am an optimistic person but with distinct paranoid tendencies.

Have you read the two articles? No? Go on. I’ll wait here [tapping foot], go on! Yes, they ARE long articles. Read.

OK. Why would I post these two articles together? You think they are unrelated? Au contraire mon frere! If the Internet is getting inside us AND if search is being so easily manipulated then… well then my paranoid self jumps aboard.

Search has been manipulated since Day 1. I remember when the “relevancy” ranking meant how many times a term appeared in the page (B.G. – Before Google).  Many sites added massive amounts of metadata to their pages to drive their ranking and get more hits. Then along came Google with their sneaky-cool algorithms.  Of  course spammers had to figure out how to work around that and they did. I think Google automatically ranks the domain extension as higher (such as a .gov would go higher than a .com) but then it relies on more complex computing, metadata, links, etc. to determine ranking.

I used to teach a class on how to read the URL and analyze the website to determine validity (at least, to get an idea if the site was credible). Few people really look at where they are getting the information, just so they get it.  This is no different from B.I. (Before Internet). My grandmother swore by the tabloids – after all, if they printed it then it must be true. The Internet via WWW carries on that tradition.

We now are seeing the phenomena of the Internet and World Wide Web. We can get to information (and misinformation) much more quickly than ever before.  We have the capability to instantly speak to someone in a completely different location – and share pictures, lectures, music, etc. practically at the speed of light. This is the change. It is faster. Human nature is the same. We still have evil. We still have manipulation. We still have beauty. We still have love. We can just access each other and the information faster.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” said George Santayana [yes, I did google to find that-wait! no, I actually yahoo’ed]. Behind all the technology are human beings. Our nature has not changed drastically. Despite the new technology, the speed, etc. we are still we. We must be responsible enough to keep that grain of salt as we carry on using the glorious new techie tools for behind the tools lie humans [cue Dorothy and the Wizard behind the curtain]