Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Re: Discoverability

Posting to Autocat

On Wed, Dec 14, 2011 at 12:45 AM, Audrey Driscoll wrote [concerning the article at: <http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228400.400-google-usability-chie=f-ideas-have-to-be-discoverable.html>]:
<snip>
When I read the interview, one thing jumped out at me -- the research and testing Google does on how people search for information.  They review search logs, but also observe real people doing searches, including their eye movements.

Has anyone done this kind of thing in the library world?  James Weinheimer keeps saying that library users don't search the way they used to and our OPACs are not what they want.  Has anyone tried to quantify what they do want?
</snip>
Just as a point of clarification, I think it goes without saying that when people sit at a computer and enter information into a text box today, they are expecting to get results based on keyword and arranged in various ways--they do not expect lists of headings arranged in alphabetical order.

This is why I am so much against the FRBR "user tasks": the very word "Search" is taking on an entirely new meaning today that couldn't have even been imagined 30 years ago (except possibly by some "futuristic" thinkers such as Marshall McLuhan, but even then, probably not). The term "item" means something quite different in an environment that lets it change literally from moment to moment and be mashed up into zillions of variants, from the "item" that sits on a shelf somewhere.

FRBR describes a world that--I won't say has disappeared--but a world that is being rapidly overtaken by outside changes in the information environment. This development should be seen as very good and positive.

What is it that people want today? I don't know but lots of very important, powerful and rich companies are trying their utmost to find out.

While it is my gut feeling that people will no longer submit themselves to the regime of searching a library catalog "correctly", I think they still would like to take a lot from it. "Expert selection" immediately comes to mind; the idea of "consistent results" comes to my mind but probably not to a non-librarian; "conceptual searching" and so on. These were abilities that the card catalog allowed but have disappeared with today's Googley-type search engines. 

I think there is a major place for those traditional powers today, if only we admit that in the eyes of the public, the library catalog as it is now is broken, then we could really focus our efforts on fixing it. Not by trying to impose a 19th century view of the information universe on something that is fundamentally different.

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