Category Archives: Life

Ghosts of Christmas Yet To Come

Yesterday at 2.45pm various members of staff gathered to usher out the end of the year by ushering out students from the Library. We were surprisingly busy, and by the sound of things several people needed a little polite encouragement to leave- in the same way that some people need it pointing out to them that, yes, that is the Fire Alarm, and yes, could you please exit the building now please, thank you.

Obviously, Christmas doesn’t figure as significantly in the lives of some and I imagine that many students are frustrated by our shutting down for a week. This year, as in recent years, our Library is open during the holidays, staffed by Security and (touch wood) with all of our requisite e-resources functioning effectively: and this clearly meets a need. Particularly at my institution, the Library is a real focal point for student activity, so it’s probably comforting to know that there is a safe study space to head to when everything else in the area is either shut down or full of revellers.

I also take my hat off to those dedicated enough to maintain discipline and focus when the world around them is all tinsel and bright lights and merry. Speaking as a student with coursework to complete, I’m already bracing myself for that moment when I eschew sleeping in, put down the mince pies and categorically state in no uncertain terms that I’m not having another glass of prosecco as I need to focus on reflective writing and literature searching.

And I can see the attraction of heading into a Library in order to get the job done, after all it’s quiet, warm, spacious (most people aren’t there) and above all there’s less temptation to stray into seasonal territory. The library is also neutral: it’s not going to judge the excesses of the previous night, and it’s not going to take responsibility for what you get up to on the way home afterwards. It’s an other space, a world in between worlds designed to meet your needs at the time you have them.

I remember one year during my UG degree I went in to use some specialist video editing software and it reinforced my notion that a University Library feels out of context during the Christmas holidays. There was something eerie about being on campus, a smattering of other students here and there, no staff, with just some bemused security officers wondering why we had nothing better to do. Like being on board an HE Mary Celeste filled with lost souls drifting inexorably towards damnation (well, a deadline at least).

I’m honestly thankful that the only festive spirits I need to encounter at this time of year are either the Muppets showing miserly Michael Caine the error of his ways or the ones best mixed with lemonade. The only problems I envisage staying at home to study are battling with my own willpower and a dodgy broadband connection. At the same time, I do hope that the students visiting the library next week are happy and on track for a prosperous new year- and that they’re able to take a moment, even a brief one, to enjoy this festive season as intended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hello? Is there anyone out there?

If I’m being honest, I was surprised that it wasn’t longer since my last post. Prolific I have clearly not been. I’d like to say it’s because I have been living a full, active and hugely time pressurised lifestyle, with social engagements and workplace drama constraining the opportunities for writing.

The truth is, I just wasn’t bothered.

I realised earlier this year that I had given up on creativity for creativity’s sake. Yes, I find ways of being creative in my job (no change in role btw. for those returning readers) and have ample opportunities to be so; but I had stopped expressing myself creatively through writing (both inside and outside of work) simply because I wanted to stop. And not for some awful, life impacting reasons; merely I had stopped enjoying writing. It happened during the 2nd year of my degree- a moment when I stopped loving doing the thing I thought I wanted to do for the rest of my life; and then over the years I just couldn’t bring myself to do it at all. Writing became a stick I beat myself with, like re-treading decisions and choices from the past- a reminder that I chose B instead of A, the left fork over the right.

God, I’m so over myself and this negative cycle of reflection and rumination. The truth is, I wasn’t bothered and it’s easier to not do something than choose to do it.

The other day I sat down and spent the morning writing a blog post for a work account and it felt good. Really good. It wasn’t the most amazing thing I’ve ever written: in fact I noticed how hesitant my wording and phrasing was, how I struggled to decide on a tone and delivery style, and (don’t tell anyone) how comparatively ‘relaxed’ I’ve become about nth degree editing. In a creative sense, not a professional one, obviously.

And that’s spurred me into admitting I can’t remember my password, resetting it and logging in. And here I am. Writing. Feeling incredibly guilty because I should be studying. But feeling good because I’m writing. At least until my fishcakes are cooked and then I’ll stop.

A summary.

Work is fine, in fact it has been a rewarding and eventful year, the highlights of which included: giving a conference presentation for the first time, training a new member of staff in all things ILLs for the first time, and hosting The Price Is Right for the first time.

Lowlights? Well, aside from facing the same issues as many people in the sector (money, money, money, and money; oh and a general feeling that libraries and librarians aren’t taken as seriously as they should be) there haven’t been too many. I think I could have been more productive in some areas, less so in others, but it’s all a learning experience.

Oh, and I’ve started an MA. Which so far has…

[fishcakes]

Now I’ve thought about it, one lowlight has been ‘2016’, or ‘the year the world went mad’. So mad in fact that many of the great and good decided to step off and find a new playground, sadly adding to the general sense of dispiriting awfulness that the last ten and a half months have so far been filled with.

Of course, not everyone has been feeling this way about 2016. In fact it turns out that me, my friends, family and colleagues are largely in the minority when it comes to such matters. So well done Brexiteers, Trumpeters, Honey G-ers and the rest of you nutters, sorry, ‘real hard working people overlooked and ignored by the liberal metropolitan elite’.

Hello? Is there anyone out there? These days, unless they’re visiting from Mars, I think I’d rather not know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12 Months Later

It’s August 2015 and I find myself exactly one year into my role as Senior Information Assistant: Inter-Library Loans.

On the whole, it’s been a good year. Busy. Challenging. But good.

The main thing I was worried about was breaking it. My predecessor, having been in post for about 12 years and who retired having worked at the Library for more than 40, was ILLs; so much so that, even after 12 months, I sometimes still feel as if I’m filling-in while she’s on leave.

Thankfully, despite several near-misses (and a couple of damn good tries) I haven’t broken it. Substantially. Cough.

The thing I’ve found most challenging has been the decision-making. No, that’s not true actually.

Decision-making is easy; it’s not making bad decisions which is hard.

In fact the most difficult thing I’ve discovered about stepping-up and taking on more responsibility is that you have to set your own agenda much more. Yes, the work ebbs and flows; but suddenly I’ve found myself self-directing and planning and managing my time in a completely new way.

Also, supervising. Whilst I don’t ‘technically’ manage anyone, I do have to operate in a ‘supervisory’ capacity in both departmental and service desk scenarios and, to be honest, I have absolutely no idea how that’s going/gone. I find myself obsessing about the tone of my voice; body language, things I say, things I don’t say, even more than I ever did- and given the fact that I self-reflect to an obsessive nth degree anyway, well, let’s just say I spend far too much time thinking about these things.

I think it was about 8 months before I finally felt a little more comfortable in the role- before I reached a point where I was accepting of the fact that:

  • Not everything is going to go right, and that’s okay
  • Some things will go wrong, and that’s okay
  • You don’t have to stay until 7pm every evening, and that’s okay too

But even today, scouring the country for music scores, I’m still finding certain elements of the job leave me feeling like I’m standing on the edge of disaster. When I say disaster, obviously this is all contextual. Nobody is going to die if I can’t find 100 Carols for Choirs by September 30th (which I hopefully have btw. #win).

The fact that I’m writing this blog post now is also perhaps an indicator of where I am at the moment; for much of the past year I’ve hardly felt motivated to write, despite hankering after an opportunity to be more expressively creative. I’ve just really switched off a lot this year, sort of put my head down, tried to work hard and be organised. I’ve become detached from the things which interest me, and even people who interest me- I stopped loading Twitter each day on my browser, whereas before I’d leave it on in the background all day, dipping in and out, keeping up with the world, commenting pithily.

To a certain extent I think I’ve got the balance wrong though. I’ve found myself mentally fatigued at the end of a day, even more so than when I was studying part-time alongside full-time work. I think without realising it, subconsciously I really have been working quite hard to stay on top of things, to the point where much of my drive, energy and capacity to do activities outside of (or around) work has been diminished somewhat.

So my target for this coming year is, not exactly to take my eye off of the ball- but more to remember that whilst it’s good to have my foot pressed down on the accelerator, it’s also good to shift gears every now and then. Hopefully it’ll make for a smoother ride.

There’s a great mangling of clichéd idioms to end on. I’m sure the blogosphere is delighted I’m back.

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A Blog Post Comes But Once A Year

So, the last time I posted to this blog was less than a year ago. That’s less than a year. Not a year, less than.

Okay, again I’ve been a little tardy. Work shy. Slipshod. There have been reasons.

Reason 1: I’m lazy.

Reason 2: Erm, well, there is a reason two. It’s that life sort of got in the way, except that, the bits of life that got in the way are sort of linked to my erstwhile career as a blogger, so in effect I’m really just making excuses. (I did finish the final year of my degree, and work has been *crazy* what with the ‘restr_____ing’). Mostly excuses.

Anyway, you rejoin me (or I rejoin you) with an imminent rotation: away from the joys and delights of Inter-Library Loans and Acquisitions, and into the lap-of-the-Gods that is Academic Services (Subject Librarians). It should be exciting/fun/new/scary, and already I have a diary brimming with activities to help keep me occupied in my first week.

Firstly I’m sitting-in on a talk with an Erasmus visitor, who will be learning about the way the Library markets itself from my talented colleague who co-ordinates all of that for us. Then later in the week I’m learning about editing the new version of LibGuides- which, given that I haven’t learned how to edit the old versions, should be a fresh learning opportunity. Or shot in the dark.

I am in the process of moving desks, and will now be facing a wall. A white wall. A plain one. There will be posters.

My equipment is being adjusted for me (ba-dum-tsch) and hopefully everything will actually be ready to go I.T.-wise ahead of schedule, as I’m sure everything will all work properly and there will be no problems. Ha ha ha ha ha ha etc.

In the meantime, I have been wrapping up stuff and doing all of those little tasks that you set to one side to be done later and never do, like replacing those crappy plastic wallets, or updating those notes, or shredding the evidence.

It’ll be sad to leave Technical Services (it’s been re-branded since last we spoke) and even sadder when one of my managers, who’s worked here for 40 years (that’s not a typo) retires in a couple of weeks time. But on Monday, following the closure of one of our other sites, a load of new shiny people will arrive, completely changing the dynamic of the workplace. A workplace that, in light of the institution-wide plans and reconfiguration, has seen so many people leave, and continue to leave, and actually hasn’t really felt the same for a while.

It’ll be good to have more people around, and less empty seats.

 

 

 

 

 

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Thrills & Spills in ILLs

You know that awkward moment? The one when you’re walking along the street, or browsing through the supermarket, maybe you sit down on a train, and you look to the right, and there’s that face; you sort of recognise it, can’t quite place them, you smile, there’s a little eye-recognition and then Oh god, dammit, why didn’t I just look away or pretend that I… “So, hey, hi, how are you, good to see you, how long has it been?”

Oh come on, we’ve all been there. Like 10 minutes ago, when I saw the WordPress bookmark, tried to log-in, forgot my password, reset it, and then discovered to my horror that I haven’t posted anything since 2012!

Very poor.

Anyway, I’ve been spurred back into action. I’m back on the horse, all dusted down and reinvigorated with professional blogging related impetus.

By why I hear you cry?!

Well, since my last post I’ve rotated again, and am now working in Inter-Library Loans and Acquisitions: and on Friday we had a lovely visit from some colleagues at another University library who came to see how we do ILLs, and it was so nice to share some time with colleagues who seemed genuinely interested in our work, and it made me want to write about it.

I think my motivation also stems from the fact that due to some ongoing pressures at work (we won’t mention the dreaded ‘R’ word), the fact that we had a great day and seemed to make a good impression spoke volumes about the character and professionalism of the fabulous people I work with- that even in the face of testing times, our spirit remains undiminished. Sigh.

ILLs is great. My ILLs manager is a legend in the field, known by name and for her inimitable style, and we have a lot of fun. Whilst she seems baffled by the fact, like my predecessor, I rather enjoy posting Jiffy bags, sticking labels and stamping things, I marvel at the substantial number of variables associated with the job and her ability to remember them all.

ILLs is at the same time idiosyncratic, processional and completely ad hoc. One minute I’m sending through a straightforward request to the British Library, the next I’m exchanging pleasantries with a librarian in Germany. You spend a lot of time communicating with people- students, lecturers, librarians- and a great deal of time chatting with each other, sharing progress on orders, and laughing in the face of ‘rules’.

One of the things I have noticed, and wasn’t necessarily expecting, is that ILLs is often the first port of call for people using the Library for the first time. This puts us in a unique position, as it’s our job to not only solve an inquiry, but to make a good impression and do the best we can to direct staff and students to the other services and resources we have to offer. I actually spend a lot of time helping people with using databases, Google Scholar, promoting our Librarians, Subject Guides, and other facilities like the British Library or the public library.

ILLs also pushes you, in the sense that if you like problem solving, you’ll want to keep searching, to check SunCat or WorldCat again, to challenge your stamina and professional resolve. I think my competitive side, that intrinsic feeling of determination not to be beaten, particularly by the system, is often tempered by a ‘need by’ date, or the fact it’s 5.45 and it’s still bugging me.

I couldn’t begin to cover all of the things we do, even though I technically only do it two days a week- but Friday’s visit reminded me that what we do is interesting, fun, and above all quietly satisfying; we help people find the information they need, often by hook or by crook (if ‘by crook’ means emailing an author in America directly and hoping beyond all hope that politeness and a good spell-check might just do the trick…).

Given the uncertainty zeitgeist that seems to perpetually plague both us and the sector in general, I would feel sad if my time in ILLs heralds the end of my Library experience. I hope the old adage about an ‘ILLs wind blowing no one any good’ doesn’t come to pass.

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Out of the Frying Pan & into the Fire

After 12 happy months in Public Services, I am about to embark on a journey into the unknown- Cataloguing. I have not been to Library School. I am wholly unqualified. You say Dewey, I say Uncle Scrooge:

What can possibly go wrong?

Yes, in the crazy world of my Library, I am about to be rotated for the second time- from the dark, murky corners of the illuminati to the, well, lighter (and temporarily more spacious) corner of ‘proper Librarianism’.

I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for this last comment.

It’s just that, Cataloguing strikes me as pretty much the closest I’ll ever get to being part of that classic, nostalgic, rose-tinted world of tweed, dust and good old-fashioned stamping. Yes I know, Libraries are about e-resources, and iPads and fancy tools, and information literacy. And yes I know that dealing with customers, equipment and systems is crucial to building a successful learning environment. But Cataloguing, well, it looks sort of librariany. There are reference books involved.

With just a few days to go, I’m filled with excitement and trepidation. Excitement in that I’ll be learning something new, and sitting somewhere different and changing the whole tempo of my daily work. The trepidation comes from a genuine fear that I’ll be useless at it. I really am starting from a low knowledge base. No, lower. Lower than that. Keep going. Yep, that low.

From what I can tell so far, grammar and punctuation are big themes in cataloguing which pleases me. I’m obsessed with both, love rules and think everyone should read Lynne Truss’ masterpiece. However, it also looks like it involves computer systems and someone called Marc. This pleases me less. I don’t like numbers or technical things. Boo science. And I don’t like meeting new people. On the up side, I’ve already re-written the title of this blog post three times; first, as I would normally, second as it should look on the catalogue, and third as above which breaks both mine and AARC rules. At least I think it does. Is it even called AARC? No wait, it’s AACR isn’t it? Haha! See, I was paying attention. What? I’ve missed out a number? Really?

Anyway, I also found out today that Mr Dewey (allegedly) had a thing for Max Mosely-style alleged shenanigans (allegedly). In conclusion, I plan to document my journey through Cataloguing in the hope that some good will come from the metadata damage I will undoubtedly do.

In the meantime, I’m in the process of wrapping up my time in Public Services which, contrary to the indications of colleagues (whose doomsday utterings left me concerned that I was headed into the jungle with Martin Sheen) has proven rather fun and uplifting; and I don’t think this is entirely down to the gallows humour either. The fact is, Public Services is both challenging and rewarding. You’re simultaneously managing your workload, motivation levels, personal discipline, professional manner and general ability to be social. I’ve felt under pressure to be ‘on’ most of the time. You get asked more questions than you have answers for, and the sense of treading water and frustration at being powerless to solve certain issues can be a little overwhelming at times. But then, the sense of achievement when something works, when customers are satisfied, becomes even more intensified- even the smallest, littlest success, like finding a missing book, or answering a colleague’s question, suddenly becomes magnified into a much more emphatic win. I’ve also learned a lot from my Public Services colleagues about problem-solving, thought processes, strategic planning and attention to detail; not to mention the skills of personal resolve in handling extremely difficult/challenging scenarios with dignity and care. I’m actually sad to be saying goodbye to a job I’ve enjoyed, and to the tasks I never quite got round to finishing.

But all things must end, and in that spirit I shall stop now.

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2012: The Year of Living Dangerously (well, as dangerous as it can get working in academic libraries…)

It’s not about what your workplace can do for you, but what you can do to make your workplace work.

Bludgeoning historical quotations aside, I spent some time over the festive break reflecting on the working year, both in terms of the positives & negatives, and found my thoughts coalescing around the same specific theme- problem solving strategies. I started thinking about the particular scenarios I found challenging, and the possible steps I could take to face up to them.

I then started to broaden this out into a general consideration of the complexities of the workplace dynamic in relation to problem solving. Based on my own experiences, and those of friends and colleagues, a number of questions/points began to circulate in my head:

  • How difficult is it adopting a proactive approach to dealing with issues which are ostensibly outside of one’s control?
  • Does apologising make “There’s nothing I can do” an acceptable?
  • Who’s responsibility is it to make something happen?
  • How much of a personal investment in the workplace should an individual make?
  • Is disagreement always negative?
  • Are problems really ‘problems’ or just situations which need addressing/rectifying?
  • If work is enjoyable, is enough hard work being done?
  • What’s the point of office politics & is it possible to disregard them?
  • What is the best strategy to employ to effect change, either as a customer or employee?
  • Can you learn to differentiate a dead-horse-flogging, from a genuine opportunity for change?

There’s always an inherent danger when self-reflecting that issues become exaggerated, perspective is lost, and too much time is spent focussing on negative perceptions. There’s the danger that others may not share your enthusiasm or perspective, or indeed they may question your own ability to do your job adequately. But there’s also the danger that ignoring/accepting patterns which are unsatisfying can lead to disillusionment & resentment.

Returning to my personal challenges, I’m not naive- I know there are always going to be things which are out of my control, situations which will remain unresolved. I also am not crazy enough to think that I have all (or often, any) of the right answers. I’m also not stupid enough to burden my day with unnecessary worries and stresses over, what are mostly, trivial matters.

But perhaps 2012 is the year to start living a little more dangerously.

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No Way Out

Excuse me, how do I leave?

You can exit through the middle barrier.

Yeah, but, how do I leave?

It’s okay, you don’t need to swipe, you can just walk right through and the barrier opens automatically.

Yes, but, like, how do I leave? Where do I come out at?

What do you mean?

You know, when I walk through the barrier, how do I get out? How do I exit the building?

In hindsight, the question I should have asked was: How did you get in here in the first place?

I mean, really. Even if you’re having a really, really, *REALLY* bad day; surely the floor-to-ceiling windows offering a stunning view of the Square (i.e. the outside) serve as a slight clue. Perhaps the stairs down to the floor below could be a starting point? Try thinking about it logically maybe? You know, common sense? Sigh.

Sadly, that’s precisely the problem- not thinking.

Much debate (and ranting from me) has ensued this week about the noticeable shortcomings of some of the new crop of students. Unfortunately, a (thankfully, minority) proportion of them appear incapable of thinking for themselves.

Of course, everyone needs a little help sometimes; and that’s what we’re here for- to help.

We enjoy helping. It’s a wonderful experience to offer assistance, impart knowledge, or offer an understanding ear to somebody; and then to watch them grow in confidence as a result. And, quite understandably, certain students (e.g. from overseas, or new to higher education) take a little longer to adjust to our academic surroundings.

But too many of our newbies are, well, frankly (I hate to say it) lazy. They’re increasingly reluctant to listen to advice, they walk away before you can give them the information they need, have no patience whatsoever for anything more than a soundbite inquiry and, perhaps most disappointingly, have little regard for the need to learn how to learn. Many of them seem so used to being spoon-fed their education, that they don’t see the need/importance/necessity of learning how to use the Library, explore resources or work independently. They apparently think we are an extension of the support services, here to do everything for them. Is the new culture of increasing fees is, in turn, fuelling the notion that students expect to be given their degrees?

Is education fast becoming an economic exchange?

If you think this is just the bitter Friday ramblings of someone tired and emotional (cough) I offer this example:

As well as working, I study part-time, and have recently begun my academic year. Over the last two weeks, I have been shocked by the complete inability of some of my classmates to think for themselves. I’ve lost count of how many minutes have been wasted by inane discussions about which items are core texts, which are background, how this tutor did it like this, and how it’s not clear where we download this week’s reading from, etc.

At one point this week, several classmates freaked out when they realised the lecturer’s bullet points were different to those on our handouts. It didn’t occur to them to just make a few more extended notes. No. They interrupted him to complain/point out the error, then wasted 5 minutes discussing the point.

Astonishing.

I’m not the world’s best student. I’m not the world’s best Library worker. Sometimes I’m lazy. Sometimes I do dumb things. I have a memory like a sieve. I ask really stupid questions. Everyone does, from time to time.

But it seems independent thought and effort are fast becoming disposable commodities; much to the detriment of my desk-side manner.

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How To Hide Your Library

It’s a key point to consider, especially given that newbie after newbie seems to be under the impression that we’ve hidden it.

“Excuse me, sorry, but where is the Library?”

“I’m sorry, where are all the books?”

“Like, hello, where’s the frickin’ stuff?!”

Ok, no-one has actually phrased it like that.

I’ll admit that the orientation of our buildings could be improved ever so slightly; and, that there are a few potentially misleading signs here and there. But, honestly, I’ve never known a group of individuals, the movers and shakers of the future, so wholly incapable of navigating their way around.

The first stumbling block is our barriers. Yes, the stupid plastic clip on their I.D. cards doesn’t help- but come on people, it’s a barrier, not an open-mouthed alligator! Swipe and walk! Swipe. And walk.

Exit, amazingly, really does mean way of leaving.

But what trumps all of the orientation issues which pervade our daily customer service interactions, is the strange (and immensely comical) notion that we’ve somehow hidden everything. Even more comical is the manifestation of this confusion, which seems to be an inability to walk through double doors.

Seriously.

If I had a fiver for every person who battles to swipe in, only to be confounded by two unlocked, dual-directional, swinging brown doors, I’d be able to buy a second Strictly Come Dancing Sweepstake 2011 ticket. Even though they can see people passing in, out and through them- they stop, return to the safety of the desk and ask for help.

Even then, guiding them to proceed through the doors to the lifts and stairs isn’t a failsafe mechanism for connecting them with resources. They come back, having been unable to locate anything.

What have they been doing for all that time? Standing in the stairwell?

It makes you wonder what they think we’ve done with the Library. Have we disguised it as the Canteen?

And what do they think is lurking behind the un-openable (even though they’re being opened) doors? A monster? Purgatory? (Make your own jokes) Michael Winner?

It’s not like the building is a Tardis. It’s massive, with a billion floors. What happened to the great explorers? I doubt Sir Ranolph Fiennes would take one look at a door and think “Oooh, not for me” and turn around.

Anyway, it fills us with amusement, and that’s what matters.

In tribute to the dooraphobics, I’ve found this gem from my childhood. Don’t have nightmares!

 

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Informatic Engineering

[Warning: this post is far too lengthy and boring. I thought about segmenting it into separate posts and decided not to, on the grounds that, well, that would be long. Just skim through and note the salient points. Or just look at the pictures. Either way, if you’re reading this, you’re probably extremely bored anyway, in which case, this post is doing you a favour by filling time- approx. 30 seconds of listless scrolling…]

Why don’t we just scrap Search Engines and ask a Librarian instead?

This question was surmised by my learned colleague Oli, during a discussion on the merits (or lack thereof) of the most popular search engines currently available online. Of course, the workload would be unbearable, and stress levels would elevate to such an extent that the average life-span of a Librarian would decrease exponentially. I imagine waiting times for information retrieval would also surpass that of trying to book an appointment with your local GP.

But it is an interesting point to consider- the role of Librarians in a Googley World.

Effectively, Library workers are human search engines. Visitors to the Library pose us questions; we interpret their inquiry, sometimes offering alternatives to aid their search; we then instantly compute all of the avenues and possibilities available, based on our personal database of knowledge and experience; then we present an array of results and strategies, which the inquirer can choose to utilise, pursue or ignore.

However, despite the odd alter-egoes here & there (not to mention a penchant for dressing up) Librarians aren’t superheroes. They don’t have special powers. They need help too. Like everyone else, Librarians use search engines. And, like everyone else, I suspect most of them use Google.

Google has become common parlance for searching the internet. “Why don’t you Google it?” “I’ve just Googled…” etc. But is Google’s dominance of the search engine market justified? Are there any realistic alternatives?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, there are alternatives. But am I realistically going to use them? No, probably not. Like most people, I’m lazy.

Certainly, there are specialised search engines which undoubtedly suit the needs of niche groups better. But for general day-to-day internet searches (at least until the backlash comes) Google will remain the default choice. Which sadly reflects on the information society we live in. Can you imagine suggesting to a student that they go and browse the Encyclopaedia Britannica to answer their question? People want things instantly, and for most queries, search engines meet this need. And once you’ve discovered Google, why are you going to experiment with other sites? Information professionals undoubtedly find the science of information (and subsequent comparisons between search engines) fascinating/interesting/mildly diverting; but I suspect very few ordinary internet users are actually bothered by such matters.

Thankfully for the disinterested, when it comes to needing assistance with more detailed information searches, Librarians are at hand to step-in and offer valued wisdom. Libraries are houses of guidance for knowledge seekers. Worship us! (Or, at the very least, keep us open and staffed by professionals).

Anyway, muddled ranting over, now on to the week’s Things.

For my Search Engine Comparison, I entered Walthamstow into each of the big four’s boxes of truth, and then assessed the outcome:

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To be fair, each search engine brought back much of the same results- the key differences being in aesthetics and quirks. All of them highlighted key information sources about the town and local area, and a couple found this amazing news story about Brian Harvey.

For all you stats fans (geeks) out there, Google unsurprisingly won in terms of nominal retrievals:

  1. Google: 4.8m
  2. Yahoo: 611,000
  3. Bing: 595,000
  4. Ask Jeeves: n/a*

Google: Winner on stats, and winner on appearance for me- clear, tidy and refreshingly lacking in advertisements. Though, when you think about it, what does Google seriously expect me to do with 4.8 million results? There are good options to further your search, and the image gallery was substantial. However, as expressed before, I have a real problem with Google’s interface and interaction with keyboard controls. I hate the predictor as I type; it’s annoying and symptomatic of a world where nobody is required to think for themselves. I don’t like the way using the arrow keys renders you stuck in the list of results rather than scrolling the page. And I do get frustrated with the way Google identifies results based on popularity.

I’m also unhappy with the way Google is stalking me. It seems that exploiting my personal information isn’t enough to satisfy their own nefarious needs; now they seem determined to track my location and to let me know that they’re doing so. 6 weeks ago Big Brother Google told me I was in Camden. Today, it told me I’m in Tottenham. Am I the only person freaked out by this?

Yahoo: I’ve decided not to comment on Yahoo as a matter of principle, after noticing on the bottom of the results page that Yahoo is powered by Bing.

Bing: What a stupid name. Visually awful, with far too much blue text. Lots of advertising, including one titled: Walthamstow Cheap. That might well be the case, by I’m not happy with those connotations being so immediate. Good image selection.

Ask Jeeves: No thank you, I’d rather not. Two things attracted my attention with Ask. The first was “Might Jeeves suggest the Hackney Gazette”- erm, no, thank you. That would be in Hackney; clue’s in the search term, moron. Secondly, the link offering me search results from Excite, which proved a complete waste of time and clicking.

[*Jeeves wouldn’t tell me how many search results he generated. Whatever.]

In other Things:

  • I found a really good explanation of how search engines work on the Berkley guide (I admit it, I didn’t really understand the finer points of this issue).
  • Having perused the Search Engine List, I urge you to click on this to see Goo. Amazing.
  • I immediately assumed that Wolfram Alpha was evil, based solely on an irrational desire to add “& Hart” to the name. (Ok, so it wasn’t Buffy, but it was a good show and I enjoyed it, even though I never saw the final season, don’t tell me what happened!) I actually really like WA, particularly as I adore useless trivia. I rather self-indulgently searched for the 5th August 1983, and found that I was born on a Friday during a Waning Crescent Moon. Says it all really.
  • Have I missed the point of Dogpile & the Meta Search Engines? Okay, so it tells me some results were found exclusively on specific search engines. But so what? If I was carrying out research, I wouldn’t only use the list of results garnered from 1 search as the entire basis for my work. That would be dumb. Or maybe I’m being dumb? I suppose if Zuula and other Meta Engines are searching across a variety of search engines, some of which focus on material unobtainable by Google (such as social network sites) then I could potentially carry out my research all in one place in 1 go = easier for me? I think my brain is struggling to cope with all this information about finding information.
  • Google A Day was fun, but I became extremely frustrated with the answer input recognition; basically, unless you word your answer EXACTLY as needed, it tells you you’re wrong.
  • Lastly, here is my Search Story:
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