Thursday, May 20, 2010


I recently investigated the databases available to cardholders through the SLFL and CEF websites. I don’t remember exactly what I was looking for but I was searching for some in-depth articles pertaining to a specific subject. So, I surfed over to the CEF website and clicked on the Database tab. You then have to select what type of general information you want to find. There are a number of options. At this point it helps if you think about what you are looking for (TAWYALF) and also think about what you are not looking for (TAWYANLF). This first process, TAWYALF, is the key to successful search and you will actually do this a couple of times. I found a related option under the Topics selection and clicked away. The next window that opens up tells you the different databases you can use under that general topic. You have to decide if you are looking for information from magazine articles, newspapers, journals or scholarly journals. Now it’s time TAWYALF again. Once you click on your desired database you will be prompted to enter your fourteen digit library card number. You type in the number and hit enter.

You are now brought to the front page of the database company and can begin your search in earnest. All of the database companies provide access to articles and information in roughly the same thing. And all of them do it a little differently. Once you have figured out how to search one of these companies you can transfer that knowledge to another. But it does take some practice. And like I said they are all a little different and some are down right quirky. In addition, not all databases offer access to the same subject matter. You will probably also develop a favorite database company. The easiest thing to do is to just type in whatever it is you are looking for, TAWYALF, in the search box and hit enter. You can then review your results and make a choice. If you want the information right now restrict the results to only those articles that that have a full text icon.

What I just described is the simplest way to find what you are looking for. Unfortunately, in my experience, the probability of you hitting exactly what you want to find is not very high. There are a couple of reasons for this:

First, for most people, when you begin looking for specific information you are also beginning a process of constantly redefining what you are looking for while actively engaged in the actual search. So, when you begin your search you may not yet have a clear idea as to what it is that you are actually looking for (TAWYALF). In Library School, everyone is required to take a few courses on how to successfully provide and do reference, search and research. The very first think you learn is how to conduct a “reference interview”. This is a process that helps the librarian make a determination as to exactly what the patron is looking for. The database companies have tried to replicate this activity without the benefit of person to person contact with their search options. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s a little harder.

The second reason why you might not be successful is that the database may not provide you access to what you are looking for. Database companies don’t offer all the articles in their entire company stable to everyone. They offer clients access to some of the articles. That access is entirely dependent on the deal you (your company, educational institution or library system) has cut with the database companies. And that deal is usually a balance between what your needs and desires are and how much money you can spend. Very, very few institutions can afford complete access to all of the information available from the different database companies. As a rule a given institution makes the best deal it can for the amount of money they have available.

The third reason is the words used in a search engine, epically when searching an article based database (TAWYALF), have a very specific meaning. In addition, a word can have a very different definition given its’ contents and use (TAWYANLF). The American English language has incredible range and flexibility. Some meanings are very specific to a particular field of study or region, some aren’t. And it doesn’t help that while two words can be spelled the same way they may have two different meanings or that two entirely different words can mean almost the exact same thing or that two words can sound exactly the same but be spelled differently.

Here is an example of two words that sound the same, are spelled differently and have a number of different definitions: item and idem. You can also use the word item to describe two people who are dating or in some type of relationship, as in “They are an item”. Or you can use the word to describe a single thing, as in “I was allowed to choose a single item from the list.” In the Library biz “item” has an extremely broad definition and refers to any piece of information. It doesn’t matter if you are talking or writing about a book, magazine, newspaper, serial publication, audio book, sculpture or DVD. They are all an item. The word usually refers to a physical thing but that is not always the case. This particular posting on this blog can also be referred to as an item. However, if you used the word “idem” in reference to sailing in the Adirondacks it would mean that you were probably looking for information about a specific class and type of sailboat that is usually identified with Lower St. Regis Lake, Spitfire and Upper St. Regis Lake. Even if you spelled the word incorrectly when searching for information about the sailboat there are strategies to be used that can increase the likelihood of you finding what you are looking for.

As I said earlier this process can be confusing and frustrating. If you have any difficulty using the databases give me a call at the library, drop me an email or better yet, come in and I’ll be happy to help you. If you have a laptop, bring it with you because the public computers are often already in use. Next time I’ll write about a pivotal concept in this entire process: information literacy.

See you at the Library,

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