For years, I’ve listened whenever a colleague lamented students’ preference for Google over the expensive, subject-specific databases the library provided. “They just don’t care about their research,” was the common assumption by librarians, frustrated that students didn’t seem interested in advanced search training. “They don’t want to do the work.”
The problem isn’t that library users don’t care about their research. On the contrary. The problem is that librarians and users don’t agree on what “search” means. To a librarian, “search” is what you do when you construct a query in a database or search engine. (And librarians do exactly that: construct queries. We don’t just search.) After searching when you go through your results list, librarians call that “evaluation.” Searching is just one step of the research process.
But library users, and undergraduate students in particular, are not interested in searching; they want to find sources so they can write a research paper. If this sounds like semantic parsing of hairs, you’re not listening to your users. Searching and finding are two different things. “Search” implies a scarcity of something, while finding does not. You search for your glasses when you have no idea where they are. (They’re on your head.) You find the perfect pair of running shoes when you’re at the shoe store standing in front of a wall of sneakers.
When it comes to information, there is no scarcity. (Quality, relevant information? Sure, that’s scarce. But how successful have we been over the past dozen years in convincing users to take that approach to their work? Not very.) Our users want to find relevant information, not search for it. And this means we need to take a different approach to our jobs, because as it stands, we’re not talking about the same things our users are talking about.