Information competence to librarians means the ability to understand bibliographical entries wherever these entries may be found, such as the Internet or a source book. Then, to take that basic information and find the particular source of the entry remains the challenge. I recently found a book, InfoThink: Practical Strategies for Using Information in Business, that details the thinking of all kinds of business/special librarians and information specialists about how they view information competence and the importance of information. We hear that certain departments in our College stress the end-user. This book through one information specialist, Samuel B. Hopkins, distinguishes between information preparer (that end-user) and information presenter. You prepare your information in an information-gathering mode, and you present your recommendations face to face in a presenting-recommendations mode.
For years during the teaching of Administrative Office Management, I stressed the thinking of Peter Drucker about "knowledge worker." That thinking carries to business communication where you are an information specialist everytime you look up a fact. More exists than just thinking of yourself as a knowledge worker. To a degree you are a generalist, regardless of your field. Susan Ganz, a CEO in manufacturing, in InfoThink puts the case for generalist rather well:
"I'm a generalist. My best people who are generalists but who come with specific functional skills. Everyone brings a piece to something else. This cross-functional organization needs to be linked, to be able to obtain, retrieve, and send. But they also need to connect, i.e., to understand. Sales has to connect with manufacturing, manufacturing has to connect with pre-process, pre-process has to connect with finance. It's really all about creating a network of colleagues that work in a cooperative fashion, and the personal network is the key because it goes beyond transmitting information. It takes it to a new place--one of understanding."
Sometimes in InfoThink I find references that help you in starting with search engines. The Ben Franklin Business Information Center offers these tips in starting your search:
Marjorie Hill, an information specialist for the Ben Franklin Business Information Center as part of Technology Center of Southeastern Pennsylvania, cautions that electronic information is not the entire answer:
"We think, at this point, that the Internet is a good place to look for information but not the best place to find information for making significant decisions. In addition, verification of the source of information can be very difficult on the Internet, which could have disastrous consequences for the user."
Hill closes her concerns by suggesting the Internet has complicated the lives of professionals. Clients cannot believe that this global explosion of information can help in every case.
Before you start your serious study of search engines, let us remind outselves how fast information is exploding. In 1500 B.C. it took until about 3000 B.C. for information to double. Now information is doubling every six to eight months. Does that give you pause to think about your adventure with search engines?
When you first look for a search engine, you place a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) on the browser page, such as Netscape or Internet Explorer. You could write: http://www.yahoo.com. The browser knows immediately to look for the search engine, Yahoo. You could do that same writing with any of the search engines, such as Excite, Lycos, Hotbot, Webcrawler, or Altavista. Once you find the home page of the search engine, you are in a position to create keywords for the frame or placement of the search. You might write: Winter Olympics. Then, you click on a search button, and the search engine as a robot looks up hundreds of thousands of entries about the Winter Olympics. Immediately, you notice you need to tighten your search.
Search engines, such as Excite, AltaVista, Lycos, Hotbot, Webcrawler, and Infoseek, should be used as a next-to-last resort in finding materials for your report topic. This caution is mentioned because search engines tend to find too much information on any particular topic. For example, let's say we were looking for the topic, sales. You would not just look under sales, because the search engine might produce thousands of entries. Many of the entries would name actual companies with sales in their titles. You research would have become fruitless.
Let's expand our search and say stagnant sales. Still, the search engine would not produce much usable information because the robot in the search engine would only read first, stagnant, and then, sales. You probably wouldn't find any articles of use. Now, you say you have the solution. You write in the search engine box: coffee house sales. You may now have a chance to find some articles and references. You will still see a list of coffee houses, but the extra keyword, sales, may yield some useful data.
If I look under business communication to find references, I will be greeted by thousands of entries. That is because I have not narrowed my search and used Boolean hints, such as and, or, or not.
Search engines have their problems. A librarian who maintains the MELVYL database for the California State Universities and Colleges believes search engines have been sold as the ultimate library. The search engine as conceived today is not a library. It is not the ultimate library. The way that robots or webcrawlers in the search engines organize data does not approximate a library. The information is organized differently if you look an online library catalog than the way robots retrieve information on a database. Also, as one librarian was quoted, a great deal of garbage exists on search engines. You have to carefully define your search and then hope for the best.
Susan Stellin on cnet.com offered some outstanding advice about whether search engines work. She entitled her series, "Can You Trust Your Search Engine?" She offered the following tips:
After listening to a recent, excellent library lecture, I was reminded to read the hints for each search engine before placing my keywords in the box or the rectangle. For example, with AltaVista use pluses to join your Boolean connectors instead of "and."
You don't want to confuse the robots that are trying to find your search. Don't repeat the word so many times that the search engine becomes irritated with your keywords. You cannot not fool many sophisticated search engines these days by repeating keywords ad infinitum.
Some search engines allow you to use the asterisk (*) to add more variations. You could say, for example, demograph*, and that would give you words, demographics, demography, demographic, and demographical.
You may want to acquire for your company or personal library the following book, Search Engines for the World Wide Web by Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner (Berkeley, California: Peachpit Press, 1998). In this reference the authors suggest different kinds of search engines and their power. Let's review the major search engines and their potential for finding information, according to the Glossbrenners:
Think about: When I used this search engine to find Technology in Food Processing, I found over 610 thousand entries. Some of these entries concerned food processing faculty at colleges and names of food processing plants. No wonder AltaVista is known as one of the most comprehensive services. Also, I need to narrow my search with "Technology in Food Processing" where the robots or spiders will recognize only that phrase.
Think about: The Glossbrenners propose we need to find our way through an ocean of unedited data. Excite gives you that capability with 14 channels of underlined items to help your search. Always look for the phrasing, "more like this." If you click on that phrase, you will narrow your search even more. You may also "View titles only" or "View web sites." If you view titles, you can spot keywords from the titles of articles and web sites. If you view web sites, you have an alphabetized list of the possible web sites pertaining to your topic.
Think about: When you use Hotbot, you need efficiency. Try "All the words" to get the most out of Hotbot. Hotbot will allow you 10-100 word searches per page. You decide. Look for the drop-down menus with "must," "should," and "must not" to improve your search capabilities. If you want to seek a particular year or month, use the Date Tool or menu. If you seeking a particular location, the Location Tool with "Anyplace," "Cyberplace," and "Geoplace" will narrow your search. For example, you might like "Geoplace" for a particular geographical location. Two-three search terms are usually recommended for Hotbot.
Think about: You are interested in "set searching" with InfoSeek. With set searching you perform an initial search and then narrow your terms. You see a drop-down menu of databases. Don't forget to use the double quotes for a phrase search. You need to capitalize certain proper names to improve your search capability. The Boolean operators, AND, OR, NOT do not work with Infoseek. You need to use plus (AND), NOT (minus), or OR (space) for your searches. You may also use the hyphen (e.g. study-abroad) to create an AND search. As the Glossbrenners remind us, InfoSeek search engine represents a sign of intelligent life on the Internet.
Think about: Lycos is one of the oldest search engines. You will see a frame on Lycos called "Go Get It." Minidirectories help you explore Lycos with 78 menus shown. The Boolean operators, AND, OR, and NOT, are not available. You have to use plus, minus, and space. Once you become comfortable with Lycos, you can explore Lycos Pro Custom Search. Always be aware of "Pictures" and "Sound" as drop-down menus on Lycos. Lycos takes into account the top five percent of information available on the Internet related to your topic. Company information is also easy to find on Lycos.
Think about: Yahoo is known as the grandfather of directories. You notice at least 14 different categories of directories, including Arts and Humanities, Business and Economy, Computers and Internet, and Education. Case doesn't count in placing your phrase or word in the frame or box. You can do a wildcard search. Do not use AND, OR, or NOT for your Boolean operators. Depend on plus, minus, and space. You may also use @ to designate several places in the directory. When you first look at the home page, notice "What's new" and "What's cool." Even "Today's news" may be worth checking out as your customize your newspaper headlines.
When you search on a search engine, please keep in mind your Boolean operators, AND, OR, and NOT. Let's return to that Technology in Food Processing example. I could have written on certain search engines, Technology AND Food Processing. You may want to capitalize AND to distinguish the word as a Boolean operator. Boolean operators were named after the mathematician, George Boole, who developed a logic that is still used in most computers.
You may not want Technology AND Food. You may want the search engine to look for Technology OR Food, not both. Therefore, your OR operator will most likely aid your search.
You may want to limit your search further. Try this technique: Technology NOT Food. Then, supposedly, the computer robots will only search for Technology and omit references to food. You have to know what you are searching for. You may have omitted keywords with this NOT operator. Always check your search engine home page for special Boolean operators that will only occur with certain search engines.
When you use search engines, therefore, you need to use them efficiently. The Glossbrenners have suggested an excellent list of techniques whenever you use any search engine:
Think about: Please remember that, if properly used, the Internet can provide you with considerable information. It is not wrong these days to exclaim: "Have you checked the Internet?" The Internet has become only one source of information for your reports or whatever. Think of how many companies now advertise on the Internet. The number will grow by the Millennium.
Think about: The Glossbrenners recommend you find the best search engine for the job. They particularly cite "www.lizst.com" for mailing lists and "www.clearinghouse.net" for subject guides to the Net. Throughout these links and, especially, the Hotlinks, I have listed special sites that may interest you. That list continues to grow.
Think about: Describe your keywords carefully. Take time to think through the issue. Don't just put in "theft," for example, when you mean employee theft. Remember the spiders or robots are checking each keyword.
Think about: Take your best shot on your first try. Take notes on the keywords that interest as determined by the first search. Try again.
Think about: Try what the authors call "set searching." That means only searching for certain results. You may add or subtract certain keywords.
Think about: Scan the entries you have achieved for the keywords you originally placed in the frame or box. Look carefully for those unique keywords.
Think about: Did you capitalize too many letters? Pay attention to uppercase and lowercase letters.
Think about: Nothing becomes more frustrating than seeing "No results found" or words to that effect. You may have a spelling or a keyboarding error in your initial keywords.
Think about: All sources on the Internet are not accurate. Look carefully through the quality of the material. As the Glossbrenners remind us, anyone can publish on the Internet. Put on your skeptical cap whenever you "surf" the Net. Ask these questions, according to the Glossbrenners:
What person or organization created the information?
What's the motivation behind the material?
Because unscrupulous people exist on the Net, you have to weigh the information carefully you are looking at.
Think about: The Internet does not contain the sum of human knowledge. The Glossbrenners remind us that a good online searcher knows when to stop. You may want to return to conventional sources, such as periodicals, almanacs, guides, dictionaries, and so forth, to continue your search. The Internet only represents one source out of the existence of human knowledge. Use the Net carefully.
Wasn't that a useful list? The Glossbrenners have made our job of search engine searching considerably easier.
What is meant by the "substance" of a report? Give an example of a report that has substance.
Last updated Friday, September 4, 2002
copyright(c)G. Jay Christensen, All Rights Reserved
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