A question was implied during my library’s recent exploration of the functions and implications of a catalog that actually works as a discovery system. It came up during the hour-long question and answer period with Roy Tennant (have I mentioned what a good idea it was to set aside that much time for questions?!?) when he made the comment that we should build the search skills of reference librarians into the catalog interface. That’s great, but then what will reference librarians do?
I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll have time to coach students in more than keyword searching, we’ll be able to explore the exploding realm of quality, authoritative information available online, and we’ll be able to develop ways of feeding this rich content to our users when they need it. “Googling” things is great, but as more and more information gets uploaded for public consumption, the relevant hits will become increasingly diluted in a sea of irrelevant hits. This means that we’ll have to teach better search strategies for web search engines, and we’ll have to develop tools that will help our users get to the information they need. We’ll also have to spend more and more time teaching students to distinguish between the useful and the bogus in their result lists.
People are already creating tools to aid in the quest for authoritative information. The first one that springs to mind is, of course, the Librarian’s Internet Index. But on a much smaller scale, librarians are beginning to create rich troves of web-based sources using del.icio.us, Furl, and now Google Custom Search Engine.
I adopted del.icio.us earlier this year and have decided to make mine first and foremost a curricular collection that will be useful to students in my liaison areas as well as to students on our campus in general (you can see my account here). It’s still a growing collection, but it’s a great place for me to “remember” the image repositories I find while helping one student with her research, the web sites I choose for students in a class on globalization, and so on.
But I have high hopes for tools like the Google Custom Search Engine. This is what reference librarians could do with all the “free” time gained from not helping students navigate the catalog. (And I’ll believe in the theory that we’d have free time when I see evidence of it… but that’s another whole topic.) A few other bloggers have noted some of the bundled searches that are being developed already. And now there’s a budding directory of GoogleCSE forms here. I’m also keeping track of any custom search forms that look particularly useful to the library world and adding them to my del.icio.us account. So far, here’s what I’ve found:
- Search Philosophy Open Access information from Murdoch University Library (by Kathryn Greenhill)
- Search through over 500 library/librarian blogs (by LibraryZen)
- Search Journalism sources
- Search Consumer Health and Patient Education Information (by David Rothman)
- Search the Directory of Open Access Journals (by Lukethelibrarian)
- [NEW] Search data sources (by my co-worker and others)
I still haven’t ventured into the water myself, but I think it’s only a matter of time before I start creating custom search portals that I know will return authoritative information to my students. I think one of our directives in the coming years will be “go forth and bundle” because without it our poor users will stumble around in an increasingly expansive conglomeration of more-or-less random information.