by Carrie Dunham-LaGree
Last week, Mary Pagliero Popp wrote about the changing search processes of users and the implications for libraries. As an academic librarian focused on instruction and user education, I spend a lot of time talking to students (and faculty) about how they search and why. In the few years I’ve been working in libraries, I’ve learned that I often search differently than patrons do.
The earliest and most memorable example of being baffled by a user’s search strategy came in the first few weeks of library school. I was working as a graduate assistant at the university library’s reference desk. A young woman came to the reference desk and said she needed help finding journal articles for a research paper. As I conducted a reference interview to figure out exactly what sources she needed and where in the process she got stuck, she delivered the single most flabbergasting line I’ve heard at the reference desk: “I typed the title in the search box but nothing came up.” I asked, “what title? I thought you hadn’t found any sources yet?” “The title of my paper,” she responded. I managed to steer the conversation to a good place and she left with better search skills and several articles on her topic.
Since then, I’ve remained fascinated by where our users search and why. Personally, I’m a fan of Google. I use it many times a day. It isn’t always the first place I turn for information, but often it is. Each morning as I drink coffee, I take time to play A Google a Day, Google’s search game. Typically the questions require the user to make more than one search to discover an answer. While I’m usually able to find the answer in two or three searches, there is a rush to those rare questions I can answer in a single, complex search. As fun as it is to find the answer, the more fascinating aspect is seeing how Google would solve the question, as it’s often quite different than my approach. I’ve learned many useful Google skills through their tips. There are also hints for user who get stuck. Often what I take from the few minutes I spend playing a Google a Day is better insight into how people search.
Now tell me: what’s the best Google tip you know?