The Teaching Web-scale Discovery in the Context of Google article articulated many of the gripes my classmates and I have had in trying to use UA’s Scout, and it was interesting to see it all laid out from the context of trying to build and teach discovery tools in addition to my experiences with the user end. So much of whether we have a productive search experience with a Google-style tool depends on the context of our search, how it has been defined, and (most importantly) who did the defining.
One thing Pete Coco said that really struck me was, “In the absence of a clear purpose, convenience is not convenient.” That is, sure Google is great for finding your local pizza place – because everything about that search is user-defined. You know whether you want Domino’s or Papa John’s (you want Domino’s, seriously; I’m just gonna tell you), how far you’re willing to travel, which location in town is the easiest drive – you set all the parameters, so you don’t need a lot of structure from your search tool. You structure the search yourself.
But in the example of the student who needed to find peer-reviewed articles for a class assignment, he could really use some structure, because he didn’t decide what “peer-reviewed” means or what exactly his professor will accept as legitimately “peer-reviewed” content. He really isn’t sure where to start, and he can’t define the parameters of this search on his own. He’s going to be lost, or end up in the information universe’s equivalent of that seedy bar Luke and Obi-Wan go to to find Han Solo. If we’re not going to give this guy a search tool that helps him structure his search at least a little, we’re going to need to give him some instruction before plunking him down in front of an empty search bar with a blinking cursor.
I heard a lot of bellyaching about Scout at SLIS last semester, which was my first semester here, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that I and many of my classmates much preferred to use the old UA catalog (or, really, anything that wasn’t Scout) during our first few months in a new academic field. That empty search bar can really leave you adrift.