Search Engines

Nothing at the library?

I currently work at a small liberal arts college in the Midwestern USA where librarians are "embedded" in introductory courses and oversee the information literacy curriculum. Last week one of my colleagues informed me about a response from one of her students that I just have to pass along. The student's comment was that she couldn't find anything at the library about the Industrial Revolution , her other topic was .... wait for it .... Martin Luther and the Reformation. As Joe Friday is often quoted as uttering "Just the facts, ma'am"....

Catalog keyword search hits

  • Industrial Revolution = 142
  • "Martin Luther" = 204
  • "Martin Luther" AND Reformation = 21

Ok, I know that out-of-the-box library catalogs aren't as "innovative", user friendly (or forgiving) as Amazon, Google, and the like, but the difference between what the student claimed and what the "facts" illustrate is too wide a chasm to cross.

Comments like this make me think that we should have a library lock-in, perhaps overnight, and not let the student out until they find something. Heck, it might even become a succesful reality show. It wouldn't be as goofy as Silent Library but it might still be a goodie. Afterall, there could be worse fates.

A New Search Engine, Where Less Is More

Blekko aims to show search results from only trustworthy sites, weeding out sites filled with little relevant information.

Article in the NYT

The Desk Setup: A Look At Librarian Computers

The Desk Setup

Like many technologists, I may have had some vague notion that librarians had something to contribute to discussions about information and metadata and standards and access, but my concept of what librarians did and what they knew probably had more to do with stereotypes and anecdote than on an understanding of reality. Which is a shame. Although in the last few years I think we’ve done a really good job of making clearer connections between libraries and technology, I don’t think anyone is surprised when librarians are omitted from discussions about and between prominent technologists, such as the one facilitated by the Setup. (Note: by “librarians” I mean anyone who works in, with, or for libraries. Hat tip to Eli Neiburger for saying what I’d been thinking, only less clearly, for some time before he said those words out loud.)

Religious Search Engines Yield Tailored Results

Some Christians, Jews, and Muslims are abandoning Google and Yahoo and turning to search engines like SeekFind, Jewogle and I'mHalal that yield results they believe are more likely to have God's seal of approval.

Full story

Bing and Google in a Race for Features

The result is a renaissance in search, resulting in more sophisticated tools for consumers who want richer answers to complex questions than the standard litany of blue links.

The competition is a remarkable and surprising twist: Microsoft, knocked around for so long as a bumbling laggard, has given the innovative upstart Google a kick in the pants. As the search engines introduce feature after competing feature, some analysts say they have set off an arms race, with the companies poised to spend whatever it takes to win the second phase of Web search.

Full article in the NYT Technology section

One Search Engine, All Your Messages: Silentale Launches Public Beta

Silentale, the new web service that backs up and archives your contacts and messages from all the communication platforms you use, has now launched into public beta as of this morning. The online application is part universal inbox, part social CRM tool and part contact management solution. But unlike some of its competitors, the best part about Silentale is that it archives your messages - all of your messages, including every single email, Twitter reply or direct message, Facebook message and more and then makes those searchable from one location.

Full article

The Perils of Automatic Copyright Protection

A cautionary tale about copyright, and the automated systems that enforce it.

If you post a video on YouTube, using one of their very own video creation tools, don't you expect it to go up and be viewable without any problems? Because of YouTube's Content ID system, it might not be so easy ...

Read the full story here.

Safe Search Engine Alternatives to Google

Increasingly, school librarians feel a need for their students to access alternative search engines as safe alternatives to Google and the other standard general search engines. One way to do this is to make available collections of vetted or "juried" sites, many times selected by other educators and librarians. Some of my favorite such sites for secondary school students include the Internet Public Library (, Digital Librarian (, and BUBL (

There exist search engines on the Internet that search only sites similar to the three listed above. A lot of these are Google Custom Search engines, free to anyone who wants to sign up at . One such search engine is Infotopia, a Google CSE that I created last November 13, 2009.

Infotopia, , searches only sites previously selected by librarians, teachers, and educational and library consortia. I have designed Infotopia to search with Google Safe Search always on. No filtering needed, and you get all of the precision and search features of the regular Google search engine. -- Read More

Google Purchases Aardvark

On Sunday LISNEWS had a story about the search engine Aardvark. Aardvark, a social search company, is developing a new paradigm for Web searches that taps into social networks, not automated formulas, to provide answers to queries.

Today Aardvark has been purchased by Google. Story in the Washington Post.

The Importance of Word-Sense Disambiguation in Online Information Retrieval

By Jeffrey Beall

Word-sense disambiguation is the ability of an online system to differentiate the different senses, or meanings, of words in online searching. Say for example that you need information on boxers, so you access an Internet search engine and enter "boxers" in the search box. The search engine then finds documents that contain the word "boxers" and returns those documents to you as search results.

You probably already see the problem here -- the word "boxers" is a homonym with several different meanings, and the search engine doesn’t know which meaning you want. Boxers are a breed of dog, a category of athlete, and a kind of men’s garment. It’s also the possessive of a surname, as in "Barbara Boxer’s bill …" Finally, boxers were those who participated in the Boxer Rebellion in China from 1899 to 1901. There may be additional meanings.

Information retrieval in libraries has transitioned from the high precision and recall that legacy library systems offered to the probabilistic and linguistic free-for-all that internet search engines now provide. One of the great values of legacy library databases was that they effectively handled polysemy -- the ability of a term to have multiple meanings -- in searching. Because online searching needs word-sense disambiguation to be effective and precise, it’s important for all librarians to understand the problem and its solutions. -- Read More

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