Knowing what will be asked

Reference interview leads to greater results.

Reference interview leads to greater results.

Let’s face it.  Today when someone wants to find out anything most likely they reach for a search engine.  I, Ariel Dagan, ask you to think whether all search engines such as: Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask, AOL Search and at least another top 10 that have between 1 to 900 million unique visitors per month accessing their services give you the same  answers.

In order to answer this we must understand a basic process of question and response. The answer or response one may get to answer is often based on what was asked.

When we, as humans, interact with another person we often don’t stop to think about this process. Recently, I have taken a course at the University of Rhode Island with Professor Amanda Izenstark. Among the many topics covered in the Reference and Information Services course we looked at how a Reference Librarian, a human, determines the question being asked. I mention that the librarian is a person, since these days, these information knowledge professionals interact and receive questions from patrons in person, over the telephone, and over various social networking tools such as: chat, text, tweets etc.

In Reference and Information Services by Kay Ann Cassel and Uma Hiremath (Third Edition) it is pointed out that effective communication between humans is important so that the the information provider, the reference librarian, understand’s the users need. This exchange is called a reference interview. It requires balancing many skills. “It is both an art and a science, requiring both responsiveness to the individual user and a structure with which to work”. The better we understand what is needed, our ability to provide information that will meet the needs of the patron.

Of course search engines can provide super fast access to addresses, map location and other information. However, what happens when the search engine returns information that does not meet your needs or expectations? Does that mean the information does not exist? Artificial Intelligence is being worked on all the time. Still, a computer  must return and display information based on what we have keyed in. How  structure the words of our search largly depends on what we get in return.

Billions of queries are asked each day. Yet the relevance of the results being provided by search engines is far from perfect.  There are two way this process can be improved.

  1. The one who searching can work on finding better ways phrase the search words
  2. Web content administrators and writers can work on strengthening their understanding of knowing what will be asked when using a search engine.

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