"Library search tools. Could we make them harder to use?"

Everyone now and then you come across a blog post that really resonsates and this is one: “Library search tools. Could we make them harder to use?” by @carolgauld.

I was being cheeky when I proposed Dave’s Law, but this is something that we seriously need to get a grip on…

My daughter now thinks, perhaps rightly, that the library search tools are complicated, old fashioned and very hard to use. She will most certainly be avoiding using them and I would think this would mean she will avoid using the library and will stick with Google Scholar which she feels comfortable using without training. Let me just reiterate here: week one of a degree which will take six years part time to do and the compulsory library instruction class, which threw the hardest and least useful content up first, completely alienated the student. She sees the library and it’s search tools as a last resort now and it will be incredibly difficult to change her mind.

…this strikes to the heart of the issue — we collectively claim to be a service that connects our users to information, yet we seem to go out of our way to achieve the exact opposite.

Students who don’t use the library, or who are put off using our resourses, are at a clear disadvantage — they’re statistically more likely to achieve lower grades and, if the preliminary findings from LIDP Phase 2 prove to be correct, nearly 9 times more likely to drop out of their studies.

Most students don’t need to know “Venn diagram explaining Boolean searching, phrase searching, truncation and substitution, nesting and mathematical operators” — and they especially don’t need that ramming down their throats as part of a library induction session.

Libraries should be at the cutting edge of search, but we’re still stuck in the Boolean Age. We’re obsessed with the options on the “advanced search” page and not with the user experience. We think it’s more important to have a MARC view option in the OPAC than for the catalogue search results to be relevancy ranked.

This is 2012 not 1980. We can design our communications to be friendly and welcoming so they suit our users just like Facebook and Amazon do. If we can make our search tools easy to use without instruction students will have a go and then hopefully get help if they get stuck. We can let go of the outdated notion that everyone who enrols at university needs to develop searching skills based on arcane library-only metadata standards. They will never need to use Dialog on a dial up modem so constructing complicated nested queries is pointless! If we try to give them just enough instruction at just the time they need it there is a far greater chance they will retain that knowledge and use it again.

Let’s start changing the way we do things before we become obselete and totally irrelvant to our users. Vive la Révolution Bibliothèque!


 

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