A Basic Tutorial on
Searching the WebCreated by Ellen Chamberlain,
Head Librarian and Full Professor,
University of South Carolina, Beaufort
Find this on-line tutorial at
Here's what they said about her tutorial in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Lost in Cyberspace? A Librarian Offers an Online Course on Search Engines
On the Web, less can be more. Ask anyone who has had an Internet search engine come back with 100,000 matches to a search. But with just a little knowledge of how search engines work, says one university librarian, Web surfers can trim those results and find what they're looking for.
By Kelly McCollum
Ellen Chamberlain, head librarian at the University of South Carolina at Beaufort, says she had gotten used to hearing professors and students complain about how hard it is to find information with search engines. So she ran a workshop on her campus last year on better searching techniques, and last month she created a Web site to offer the same kind of help to anyone who needs it.
Her online tutorial, called Bare Bones 101: A Basic Tutorial on Searching the Web, offers a quick overview of techniques that can help Web users get better results from their searches. "I'm trying not to go very deep," Ms. Chamberlain says. "Most users say, 'Don't give me all the details -- just give me a little bit to get me started."
So Ms. Chamberlain offers an overview of search engines, describing what they do and how they work. In the first lesson, she notes: "It is important to remember that when you are using a search engine, you are not searching the entire Web as it exists at this moment. You are actually searching a portion of the Web, captured in a fixed index created at an earlier date." That's a distinction many Web users don't understand -- and one that explains many of the dead links searchers run across.
Ms. Chamberlain explains the differences between search engines and meta-search engines: The latter compile results from multiple search sites. She also describes what she calls "library gateways," which are tools that search specific online databases, like online university library collections or other research archives, but not the rest of the Internet.
People doing research online, Ms. Chamberlain says, will "get better results if they know just a few simple tricks, like putting the most important words first, putting pluses or minuses in front of words, and putting phrases in quotes." She adds: "If they go no further than that, they're going to improve their searching 200 percent."
Ms. Chamberlain says the site has spared her and her staff from having to answer the same basic search questions over and over. Now, she says, staff members can simply direct students and professors to the Web site. It's especially good for users who might be embarrassed to ask for help, she says, because "they can read it in the privacy of their own offices."
The site offers lessons on specific search engines like Altavista, Google, and Yahoo. The lessons take a peek at capabilities of each site that aren't obvious to many users. Most search sites, the lessons also note, need a little fine-tuning to realize their full potential. "I think as search engines become smarter and smarter, it's going to be easier and easier for folks to get to where they want to go," says Ms. Chamberlain.
The site has already reached far beyond the Beaufort campus. Ms. Chamberlain says she has received e-mail messages and thank-you's from users all over the country. "People do want to become better searchers," she says. "They get so frustrated with pulling up 200 million responses, so they really want to know how to configure their searches better.
Article copied from the on-line version of the Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/23/00
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