The Universe at Your Fingertips
Block 4 Sessions, 2:00-2:45 p.m.
Program V
Discussion Group

So What If They Don't Use Boolean? A Discussion of the Effectiveness of Accepted Criteria for Evaluating Search Engines

Tom Burton-West
Reference Librarian
Santa Monica Public Library

Dudee Chiang
Networked Information Services Coordinator, Leavey Library
University of Southern California

Denise Shorey
Collection Development Coordinator, Leavey Library
University of Southern California


The days of choosing a search engine at random, or depending on just a few bookmarked ones, are fast disappearing. We would like to propose a discussion session at the upcoming conference as a forum for presenting the results of a workshop (sponsored by LACASIS, the Los Angeles Chapter of ASIS, and scheduled for February 1) on the evaluation of Web search engines. The presenters will bring to bear their experience from this workshop, which had the goal of challenging assumptions often made by librarians and others in the information field about the role played by controlled vocabularies and KWIC searching, and discussing the effectiveness of natural-language searching as used by the increasing number of untrained users who search the Web every day.

We anticipate that the audience in the discussion group will consist primarily of librarians who interact with the public in any way, but in particular those who teach classes that involve extensive use of the Web, where discussion about searching strategies would naturally arise. Members of this discussion group will be asked to propose criteria for evaluating search engines, with a short justification. They will then be presented with the results of the workshop, and asked to compare their expectations of the effectiveness of different search strategies, together with different features of several search engines, with actual results.

Those of us who encourage and teach users to plan, focus, and modify their searches need the confidence that comes with reasonably predictable output. This discussion group will afford participants the opportunity to expand their knowledge and to translate this into more effective work with their users. As search engines continue to proliferate, participants will have a tool for judging them, and for making the best possible recommendations to their users.

The three presenters in the discussion group will all be involved in the February workshop. Dudee Chiang, LACASIS Program Chair, developed the idea for the workshop, and will discuss its background. Denise Shorey, the workshop moderator, will discuss the challenges faced in creating the content. Tom Burton-West, creator of the web page to be used in the workshop and who will wear the two hats of both participant and facilitator, will speak about Internet sites for search engine comparison and discussion. We hope that our experience in putting together this workshop, and our discussion of its results, will encourage others to create and develop similar forms of continuing education in effective use of their daily tools within their institutions.


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