I often teach Boolean searching to classes of students.
There, I’ve said it. And I’ve decided not to be ashamed of that practice even though most of the literature I’ve read since library school has steadfastly lambasted the practice as outdated, unnecessary, and self-indulgent.
Of course, I don’t teach it in every class, but sometimes there’s just no substitute for a good advanced search, and students of all class years may end up hearing about how they can use OR to combine conceptual synonyms and how they can use AND to combine those clusters of conceptual synonyms, and just look at how much better ProQuest behaves now that it understands what you mean by “gender” and “higher education” and “achievement,” and that you’d really like articles that address all three concepts, please. Freshmen eat it up like candy, and when I do my mini-surveys at the end of class (name one thing you learned that will be most useful to you — name one thing that still confuses you), the “how to use AND and OR” portion of class is a consistent hit. Sophomores through seniors really can’t function well in the MLA International Bibliography without it. And just yesterday, I learned one reason why they may latch on to Boolean searching as their ticket to research nirvana.
I was talking with a professor while her students were busily putting into practice the things I’d just taught them about searching the MLA International Bibliography, and she mentioned that she hasn’t ever really needed to know this type of advanced searching because she gets pretty good result lists and can scan them quickly to pick out what she needs. “I rely a lot on people’s names, though,” she mused. And that’s when I realized that advanced search techniques are important to students because they provide at least a partial compensation for the students’ lack of disciplinary context.
So, armed with the knowledge that a) my students like it, and b) they need it because they don’t know the names of the major players in their research areas, I’m going to happily continue teaching Boolean searching (when appropriate) until it seems like neither of those criteria apply any more.