February 2, 2011

Return to Search

My Week of Extreme Slow was a success: I was as careful with each task as I was when I first started this job, except that this time I knew what I was doing. I had made the decision to try this for the sake of competence, and not necessarily as a spiritual "slow down." Nevertheless, I couldn't help but hear a great lyric from Tift Merritt looping in my head: "Most days I want to speed up; seems like I ought to slow down."

I was fortunate to have two veritable research requests during my Week of Extreme Slow. I don't know about you, but my job isn't exactly the way I pictured it would be when I was library school. I remember fondly that we had to make videos of ourselves doing reference interviews with mock search scenarios and then critique our own "performances." In that same class my teacher had us fill up blue books with kilometric Boolean equations. It may have seemed artificial and complex then, but it came in handy during an impromptu reference interview with a coworker.

My colleague was sure she had read "something" about how Detroit has run out of big box stores, with related statistics about urban nutrition. We talked for about twenty minutes, and I found myself drawn to the nearest blank sheet of paper so I could casually map out what we were saying. To my surprise it started looking like the draft stage of one of those reference exams--post-interview stage and pre-Boolean.

Besides capturing anything my coworker could remember about the topic, I tried to find out how long she thought it had been since she read this article or whether she remembered anything about the context. She knew she had seen it online, and fleetingly--possibly linked to a Twitter post. You know how it is when you're going through your own brain trying to figure out when or where you read something? It was like that except we were working together to pin down any clues, and I was jotting it all down. I also made sure to ask her if she needed this particular article or if anything describing the situation in Detroit would do. We agreed that I would try to find the essential information, and she would try to find the exact article, and then we would compare search strategies.

After some careful thought and planning, I found the article in my first minute of searching. The magic search phrase ended up being "food deserts detroit site:.gov." I limited myself to government sites only to get a manageable number of results to start with, but that ended up taking me directly to the article. (And here, by the way, is the not-so-elusive-after-all article.)

In the end it was not hard to locate the information, but my colleague and I front-loaded the work by mapping it out verbally before taking ourselves to the search box. It was a satisfying and collaborative conversation. It reminded me of what we always say about librarianship being the perfect marriage between people and technology.

If it seems insignificant to document one little search conversation, consider this: If you're a student, you need real examples of how what you're learning may be needed on the job. If you're not a student...well you might be a collector of search scenarios, in which case you can let me know in the comments what other paths I could have taken on my most recent search adventure.

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