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Good searching really isn’t about searching

I’m a librarian. My brand is Search. And I do a lot of searching every day, and I know a lot of fancy ways of making that search go well for me (much of the time). But today a chance comment underscored something I think I’ve always known: good searching really isn’t about Search, or at least not in the way that people think of Search.

Here’s what happened this morning. I’m part of a grant-funded “iPad Learning Community” on campus. We get iPads (woo!) and we commit to attending learning community sessions several times during fall term to build a better understanding of how iPads work with higher education. So I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with iPads lately, and one of my favorite things to do on an iPad is read and annotate PDFs (I’ve been using iAnnotate, though I just got Good Reader to play with, too). The thing is, it gets very tiring to write without letting your palm hit the iPad surface, and if your palm hits the iPad surface it can suddenly not tell where the tip of your finger or stylus is and so annotation goes all wonky.

So I fired up my trusty Google, and typed in iPad stylus wrist guard thinking that these were probably terrible search terms but thinking that any page that used all of those terms would probably talk about the problem I was having. Even if all I found was someone else talking about the problem, I might learn better ways to ask the question, or see someone’s answer to the question. Meanwhile, Google suggested as I typed, and thought maybe I should search for iPad stylus wrist protection, which seemed reasonable to me, so I hit “search.”

I don’t remember the next steps very clearly because this was yesterday, and yesterday is a long time ago, and I did it all really fast and without thinking too hard because this is what I do for a living — find stuff when I don’t really know what I’m looking for or how to ask the question. But eventually I learned that there’s a useful term, “palm rejection,” which is the name of a feature that people aim for in tablet applications. So I searched for iPad palm rejection and came up with some pretty useful results, including a site recommending a glove that I’m going to try out.

When I got to the learning community thing this morning, I said I’d found this glove and one of the technologists asked “how did you figure out that it was called palm rejection?” (None of us had heard the term before.) I said, kind of flippantly, “I’m a librarian!”

But then I realized that yes, it was because I had a different goal in mind for searching in the first place. I was first searching for terminology that would help me do a good search. And that’s what I do with students all the time — work with them to figure out what some key terminology might be so that they can make those search boxes work for them.

So I guess good searching, at least in the case of novices looking for information, is often more about learning to look for clues than it is about fancy search strings.

3 thoughts on “Good searching really isn’t about searching

  1. “I was first searching for terminology that would help me do a good search.”

    I feel like this is the point that I want to make to my students but have never been quite able to articulate very well. THANK YOU! I feel as though students are sometimes looking for a “smoking gun” (i.e. their topic in the title of an already written scholarly article) and often disregard the clues and hints in other sources that may help them with their own research.

  2. “Looking for clues” is a great way to put it!
    Also, do you think just using a fingerless glove would work? I have $1.99 ones from Target that I use on cold days in the office, and my palm doesn’t register on my iPad…?

  3. Huh, I bet a fingerless glove would work just fine. Basically any non-conductive barrier will do, as long as it’s clean. Apparently salt/sweat is conductive or something… :-)

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