Monday, July 23, 2007

The future of finding information

Roy Tennant of OCLC hypothesises a future when instead of using multiple search tools, such as catalogues, search engines, and databases, a library patron will be able to use a centralised search tool to find multiple resources on a given topic, whether they be print or electronic, arranged by topic. It sounds pretty exciting, at least I think so, anyway. Having said that, some of my less computer literate library patrons sometimes have trouble searching the library catalogue. As a librarian, part of my job is to empower the user to help them find the information they need. When and if this tool becomes available, it will be up to me as a librarian to help my patrons navigate the often treacherous waters of the information ocean. There is a very real need to be discerning in your search for information.

We in the information profession often hear about the phenomenon of information overload, where the user can often feel overwhelmed by the vast amounts of data available to them on a given subject, leading to information anxiety. This problem may arise when the user lacks confidence in their research skills. I remember doing a group presentation on this issue when I was at uni. Another issue is the tendency of some library users to rely too heavily on search engines such as Google. In fact, I once had to listen to someone tell me, "We don't need books or libraries anymore. People can get whatever they need from the Internet." Of course, I can't accept that at all. What people often don't realise is that search engine results are displayed by frequency of use, based on what others have found useful in searching for a given topic, and not relevance or quality. A tool like Tennant calls for, provided it is user friendly, and provides the right mix of print and electronic resources, could potentially go a long way towards alleviating these problems, and I for one welcome it.

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