Thursday, August 16, 2012


I like Daniel Russell's blog, SearchReSearch. A lot of other people do as well. In a nutshell, Daniel, a search 'anthropologist' at Google, posts a search challenge once a week and moderates comments (answers) to the challenges. I featured one of these a month ago.

Those of us who teach information fluency/literacy or help patrons locate information online can find a lot of useful content in the comments to Daniel's blog.

In a loose sense, the comments are curated, mainly to prevent inappropriate posts. It's easy to spot disagreement in the comments--rival answers or solutions to the challenges. If there's a right answer, Daniel tends not to acknowledge it.

The comments provide insight into people's search strategies and processes, which is why I think Daniel writes the blog. I encourage librarians and teachers to pull excerpts to demonstrate what effective searchers do.  This is essentially the "quiet" version of a think aloud. I believe it's helpful for students to see (or hear) how good searchers tackle a challenge. It can be more even more instructive to let students try (or start) the same challenge, then call time to see what they are trying. Then provide an example of good searching.

For example, here's the May 20 challenge:
Background: Barbara Gordon was bringing a book to the inhabitant of Wayne Manor when she realized that librarians could also become superhero crimefighters. The question of the day, though, isn't about superheros (although I truly believe librarians are superheros), but is about that book she was bringing to Mr. Wayne.  How much did it cost to print the original 1600 1700 copies of that book in the first press run, according to the printer? 
Russell then gives a couple contextual clues: this involves comic books and the price should be given in original units.

This is a multi-step challenge. First, you need to track down the name of the book. That alone could be challenging for students. From there the challenge continues to find out information about the book, similar to fact-checking.

Here's a comment from a librarian about this search:
Since comic books almost always go hand-in-hand with computer nerds (present company included), I figured that there had to be a DC wiki type page and of course there was ( Here, I looked up Barbara Gordon who I already knew as Batgirl. In her entry, I clicked on the link to her first appearance which was Detective Comics #359. It is here that I found out that the book she delivered was rare. 
Doing a search for rare book "barbara gordon" was my next step (and I realize now I could have done that initially, but I like exploring). The fifth hit was a Wiki article about the Bay Psalm Book which mentions that it was the book Gordon brought to Bruce Wayne, etc. The article also mentions that it was published by Steven Day (or Daye). It was the first book published in the New World. Cool! 
So my next step was to do a search for "bay psalm book" steven day cost and couldn't find the answer. However, in my searching I found a page that mentions that the original title is The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre. Yoinks! 
This led me to do a search for that plus original cost. This got me a result in Google books which is basically a version of the book with an introduction that gave me the answer. The cost for publishing 1700 copies (not the 1600 you mentioned) was 33 pounds, used 116 reams of paper at a cost of 29 pounds, and the book was sold for 20 pence. 
All in all, this took me about 15, maybe 20 minutes and I loved every second of it.
Not only is this insightful information for a search researcher, it's loaded with tips that can be helpful to less practiced students.

An alternative, if there was time, would be to have all students write a search log on how they did this, or attempted to do this. Collect the results, remove names, re-distribute and discuss insights, shortcuts, failures and successes.

By the way, did the librarian get it all right?

No comments: