or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Search Engine Blind Taste Test

   June 18th, 2009 Brian Herzog

blind search screenEven though I use Google for web searching most of the time, I do use other search engines, and I wonder how the results compare.

With the launch of Microsoft's new Bing search engine, a Microsoft employee must have been wondering the same thing - so he created a neat Blind Search tool (and states this is not a Microsoft project).

Type in a search term, and Blind Search shows you the results from Google, Yahoo and Bing - but without telling you which engine produced each list. So without brand bias, you decide which results list includes the most relevant websites.

And the best part is the reveal, when you "vote" and see which search engine the results came from.

I played a bit, and surprisingly, Google didn't always provide the most relevant results. As the creator states, this seems most useful as an observational curiosity, but it certainly is fun and interesting (or, it gives people a way to find pron three times faster).

via Closed Stacks

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Reference Question of the Week – 1/25/09

   January 31st, 2009 Brian Herzog

google may harm your computerThis is the question of the morning:

Is the internet broken?

Apparently, Google was having trouble this morning. Every search result from a Google search (even google.com) is tagged as "This site may harm your computer" and links to the Google page to that effect. From what I can tell, every single site on the internet is being blocked from Google search results.

A little while later, the message became "Forbidden" - I'm guessing this is a result of Google employees working feverishly to correct this problem. So far, I haven't found any news stories about this, but I'm sure it'll be explained before long.

In the meantime, I've been teaching people how to type "yahoo.com" into the address bar instead of the Google search box - I told you this chart was accurate.

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Uses of Google

   January 29th, 2009 Brian Herzog

It's funny when the interweb incidentally produces something this accurate:

Uses of Google

Via LibraryStuff.net

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Building Better Google Searches

   January 13th, 2009 Brian Herzog

google logo in legosSpeaking of learning things, Chris sent me a link that lists special strategies and syntax for searching Google more efficiently.

I use a couple of them all the time (especially site:), but I definitely spotted a few that will be extremely helpful:

  • +[stop word] - having the plus sign before a "stop word" (such as +not) forces the search to include that word, instead of ignoring it
  • inurl: and intitle: - similar to site:, but this limits the search to words just in the web address or title field. Very useful for increasing relevancy on obscure information
  • related: - lists websites that are "related" to the domain you search for (ie, related:swissarmylibrarian.net). This seems just oddly interesting, but there has got to be a very good application

The page also gives some great examples of how these can be combined. It's always good to learn how to search smarter, and it's certainly a conversation starter when patrons see me typing in these weird codes and getting better results than they do - always on the lookout for those teaching moments.

Thanks Chris, and to the faculty of the Valencia Community College for compiling the list. There are also other lists, too, but this one was very helpful.

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Reference Question of the Week – 11/16/08

   November 22nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

let me Google that for you imageI'm going to be visiting my family for the week of Thanksgiving, so this will be my last post until I get back. So instead of a regular reference question today, here's a tool people can use when they're asked questions.

It's not just Google, it's let me Google that for you. Of course I would never use this with a patron, but it's "teaching moment" kind of tool, to remind people that Google is good for certain kinds of questions (it's entertaining, but also borders on snarky).

The way it works is this: visit the website and type in the question you were asked - say, What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? Click the search button, and you get a link to send back to the person who asked you the question, which shows them how they could found the answer themselves.

Just out of curiosity, I thought I'd run a few recent Reference Questions of the Week through it, to see how my answers compared with Google's:

Google will not replace librarians, because librarians help people in was that Google can't. And by the way, there is a similar website, but it has a bad word in the URL. Thanks, Chris.

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Reference Question of the Week – 4/27/08

   May 3rd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Google Street View of LaundromatOne of thing I love about my job is the absurd way unlikely resources sometimes need to be cobbled together to answer a question.

A patron called the desk asking for the phone number of a laundromat/cleaners in town. She knew it was just down the street from the library, and I pass it every day, but neither one of us could remember the name.

It was lunch time at the library, so there are no coworkers around to ask. I checked the yellow pages under laundromat, cleaners and dry cleaners, but the only businesses listed were not at the address we're looking for. I tried a few internet searches for "laundromat chelmsford" and the like, but had no immediate luck.

If there was another person to cover the desk, I would have just walked up the street and called her back with the information. But it was this thought - seeing the sign from the street - that gave me the brilliant idea of trying Google Street View.

I typed the Library's address into Google Maps, switched over to Street View, and then walked the little yellow man up the block to the laundromat. From this view, I could make out the name of the business (actually, I got lucky and their van was parked in the lot), and from there I could look them up in the white pages.

The patron was not only happy to get the phone number, but amazed at hearing about Street View for the first time. She was so interested that we stayed on the phone for another five minutes while I explained what it was, how it worked, and how she could get to it on her own.

Interesting postscript to this story:
The Chelmsford Library is located on an "island" between two one-way streets. However, this is poorly marked, and I sometimes see non-local cars going the wrong direction. Apparently, whoever was driving the Google photo car is also not from around here. By rotating the Street View down to see the car itself, you can tell by the side mirrors that it's driving the wrong direction - but best of all, you can follow the car's hasty U-turn in the library staff parking lot. Happily this did not cause an accident, but I'm surprised Google publishes photographic evidence of its drivers breaking traffic laws.

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