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Chapter 11: Getting What You Need

This is the first chapter that made me feel really anxious about how much I need to learn in order to work in this profession, particularly since in many significant ways the methods of retrieving information through a library’s resources have changed since I was last a college student. Even when I pursued my M.A., there was no internet, and computers (with dot-matrix printers and tiny screens) were relatively new. This chapter has made me think about the idea of organizing materials and information in more abstract, conecptual ways than I have thought about them before. After all, when I was an undergraduate, I just had to know which individual floors of the library housed the music collects, the novels, the periodicals, or the microfilm. It would never have occurred to me then that librarians had to think about design, or that design was related to systems of retrieving information (outside of the Dewey decimal system); I would have thought design was left to engineers and architects.

The most useful sentence in this chapter is, to me, “‘how you store it determines how you can retrieve it'” (p. 115). That’s a simple concept, but one the average user may not think about when beginning a search of some kind–which is no doubt why my otherwise capable and intelligent students often have trouble with research projects, despite the wealth of information available to them through electronic sources. The other sentence that struck me–especially since I had just a few chapters ago boasted about understanding the needs of my community–is the comment that, “The most commonly made mistake is to assume that because you ‘ve worked with a particular population already, you know what their needs are” (p.115). In reading further, I began to comprehend the incredible challenges of designing methods of retrieval, which must be vastly complicated when a particular resources is being accessed by members of different fields, who may use vastly different classification methods and lexicons within their areas. Cross-referencing in order to make information accessible must be insanely difficult. I’m intrigued by experiments with different kinds of tagging, though I’m not quite sure at this point what it all means.

Like most pedestrian searchers, I’m highly dependent on search engines, but I also realize I lack knowledge of the best ways to retrieve information using them. I watch my students run searches, and they tend to be very haphazard and inefficient. I assume that undergraduates now receive training through first year courses and through library orientation work that helps them understand how search engines work in order to use them effectively. Having compled the searching assignment, I feel I’ve been introduced to an almost intimidating number of ways to run searches using just one library’s system and resources. If I were an undergraduate, I think I might find the experience terrifying, and I’d go right back to my old pal, google, with whom I have an easy, intimate relationship. So, as a librarian, I would want to demystify search engines and make the academic research experience comfortable and rewarding. The word “usability,” metioned throughout the final part of the chapter discussion, seems a critical term in making material truly accessible.

Weedman, J. (2008). Information retrieval. In Haycock, K.  & Sheldon, B. E. (Eds.), The portable MLIS : Insights from the experts (pp. 112-126). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

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