Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Users and Uses, Research 2

Speaker, Timothy Burke

Note: this was really the stellar talk in this meeting. Not only was this guy the only non-librarian, he was the thoughtful user that we all hope to meet.

Dr. Burke is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Swarthmore College. He wrote a piece in 2004 titled "Burn the Catalog" In this he says:
I’m to the point where I think we’d be better off to just utterly erase our existing academic catalogs and forget about backwards-compatibility, lock all the vendors and librarians and scholars together in a room, and make them hammer out electronic research tools that are Amazon-plus, Amazon without the intent to sell books but with the intent of guiding users of all kinds to the books and articles and materials that they ought to find, a catalog that is a partner rather than an obstacle in the making and tracking of knowledge.

Burke presents himself as "the outsider." An academic, but not in the library or in information fields. His talk (excellent) was about how he gets/uses/searches for information. He started with a story about helping a student search in an area in which he wasn't terribly familiar. The topic was about economics, politics, and China. He said that they began with a World Bank report that had some citations. But they needed some context: who is a trusted source in this area? Who is authoritative? They tried the library catalog and LCSH, and finally went to Amazon for a current book on Chinese economy. Why Amazon? It was the easiest place to find what's new and what people are reading. Then from there they went into articles with author names, and only then did they turn to Google because they needed some knowledge about the topic in order to interpret the "torrent of results" that would be retrieved.

How/why he searches: (He's obviously has thought about this a lot)

- he very rarely searches in his own area of expertise; he already knows who is writing, what new info is coming out; he only searches to remember something forgotten, to confirm a memory;
- he searches to stretch beyond his area of specialization - something near his area or related topics; "search is a prop to knowledge I already possess." He uses search to "put top layers on foundations I have already built;" what's new? what's most authoritative? Where does this fit in to a larger world?
- "coveting my neighbor's knowledge" -- moving into other fields where he needs knowledge. Searching to "not look stupid," not to claim deep expertise; to be able to begin a conversation; who's big, who's important, who are people talking about in this area? Scholarly information doesn't give you this perspective. This is a conversation, and in the academic world conversations happen at conferences, not in the literature.
- when he is involved in the production of knowledge; when writing a paper or book; searching is citationally specific in this case, and he wants to output citations from it; the search has to be comprehensive; this is the kind of search that library catalogs were built to service.
- serendipitous search. Looking to find something he doesn't know, that he can't produce a connection to. Amazon's 'people who bought this....'. "This is what the web has done for me as an intellectual." It has given exploration, not a focused search. the thing that doens't make sense form the search query
- syllabus construction - what's in print, how much does it cost, what's teachable? not same books as would use for research.
- searching to help other people do research.

The tools he needs:
- tools that recognize existing clusters of knowledge; if you find a book using lcsh, you probably already know it existed. tool that recognizes the conversation the book was in. those that were written after the book came out and have continued the conversation.
- tools that know lines of descent; chronology of publications; later readers determine connection between texts
- tools that find unknown connections (full text search; topic maps?)
- tools that produce serendipity -- hidden connections.
- tools that inform me of authority
- tools that know about real world usage (those who bought x bought y; how many people checked this out?)
- tools that know about the sociology of knowledge; the pedigrees of authors: who were they trained by, how long ago; how trustworthy is this institution?

What's not out there?
- clusters of contextuality
What search can't do and shouldn't try to do: tell me in advance the key words I need to do my searches. A necessary permanent feature is that search is a multi-step practice; search teaches you something.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Burke's information seeking behavior is entirely in sync with the research reported by Ellis that Marcia Bates discusses in her recommendation to the LC task force.