Thursday, June 26, 2008

Boolean NOT

I have been thinking about social software and libraries and I suspect that the result of this thinking might be a rash of posts not unlike a bunch I wrote when I couldn't stop thinking about Wikipedia.

But before I can write about how I think social software may affect search and research, I feel its necessary to clear some cognitive space first. So before proceeding, I want to make something very clear: LIBRARIANS HAVE TO STOP TEACHING BOOLEAN SEARCHING.

I know this is scary stuff for many academic librarians who I suspect would be at a loss of what to teach if you took away their ((ANDs) and (ORs)). But teaching about Boolean logic has become a crutch and its time to throw it away. I would go so far to say that banning the word Boolean is the number one way to improve information literacy practice in libraries.

You see, most people don't use Boolean searching. And they are still healthy, happy, and successful people. Sure, they may not be the most searching in the most efficient way but their searching is still effective. Users want to apply their energies to their results and not to search grammar.

post-search filtering

It is far more efficient to create searching interfaces that try to address these behaviour patterns than try to educate everyone of the masses on "the right way" to search.

We are at a state where the bibliographic databases have become so large that even some of the worst, poorly constructed search terms now bring relevent hits among the debris. Unfortunately, one response I've seen first hand is a library assignment in which the student is forced to use boolean logic by requiring that only 10 hits or less be returned from a search string. Any research assignment does not resemble how a real person conducts research is a poor one, to say the least.

Instead teaching that AND means 'and' and 'OR' means 'or', we should try to teach something beyond the mechanics of search. Instead of teaching about Boolean, we should instruct on the importance of language, on the nature of the publication cycle, and of the research process.

And it goes without saying that we have to get the word Boolean out of our library catalogues.

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