Database Searching 101

Ever since Google introduced its single search box on an uncluttered screen, database vendors (and other search engines) have struggled to keep up. In the years since, databases have moved more and more to a Google-like interface. The problem is that these interfaces LOOK more like Google, but they don’t SEARCH like Google. Users are frequently frustrated by very poor results when they try a Google-like search in a database.

I will give some suggestions on how to improve database searches. But first, a little discussion about how people typically search in Google. One common Google technique is to just type in what you want as a natural language search: How has Facebook changed college students’ attitudes about privacy? This yields 254,000 results. Natural language searches will yield zero results in almost every database to which Milligan or any other library subscribes. Probably the most common search technique (and the one I use in Google) is the string of keywords technique: Facebook college students’ privacy. 40 million results. Yet this search in most databases will, again, yield zero or very low results.

Some of you may be thinking: Why should I even bother with databases, since Google already has so much information on this topic? The long answer warrants a separate blog post. The short answer is that many Google results would not be considered academic sources, and would not meet the criteria of most college research papers. Academic databases contain academic resources that are needed to write academic papers. While there are academic sources in Google, it is often difficult to identify them among all the other results in a typical Google search.

While database searching can be very sophisticated and complex, it doesn’t have to be. A few simple techniques can vastly improve almost all searches.

Search Tip #1 Add the word AND in between all your search concepts. AND is a Boolean operator, a special command to the computer. It tells the computer to find results with all of your search terms. Facebook AND college students AND privacy in a database will give you much better results than a natural language or phrase search. Note that I put the AND between concepts, not between each word. Since I want the concept of “college students”, I did not put the AND between college and students. You really don’t need to understand the why of it to use it, but if you are interested in knowing more, check out:

Search Tip #2 If your search results are low and you think you have good search terms and you would like to get more results, try truncation. Truncation is shortening a word to its stem, so that the computer will find all possible endings for the word. The standard symbol for truncation is an *, which works in almost all Milligan databases. If I change my search to Facebook AND college students AND priva*, the computer will now find results with both private and privacy. The second link above has an excellent tutorial on truncation.

If you would like to learn more about searching in databases or need help finding what you want in a database, talk to me, Mary Jackson, as I’m the most excited about this topic. But any member of the library staff would be happy to help you.

New “Life” for the Library News blog

Welcome to Milligan Library Life, the new name for the Milligan College Library blog. The name change is the result of a decision to differentiate the way we use various communication and social networking media in the Library.

In addition to a website, the Library maintains a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, targeted email, and this WordPress blog. Up to now, we have tended to view these various mediums as multiple ways of getting a single message out to our user community–namely, letting you know what’s happening in the Library. The more channels of communication we utilize, the greater our exposure. Right?

This is true to a point. But as we live with these online mediums we realize that maybe we have more than one message to share–or at least, we may have more than one way to share our message. Now that Facebook has become nearly ubiquitous in the Milligan College community (as it has practically everywhere else), we have decided to push most of the Library’s news and event-type posts in that direction. We have also found it convenient to utilize Twitter as a quick way to post schedule and informational alerts to Facebook and the Twitter widget on our website home page.

What do we do with the blog? The blog format is not really appropriate for short bursts of news information. We discovered that what looks perfectly appropriate on the Facebook wall appears as a cluttered mess in a blog. The blog format lends itself to longer form articles–and invites reading at a more engaged and leisurely pace.

Of course it takes more time to write in a form that invites reading at a leisurely pace. Do we have the time? Do we have anything worth saying using this format? Would anyone be interested in reading it?

These are legitimate questions. But rather than give up on the blog I encouraged the Library staff to experiment with me with this other form of communication in the way it works best. Enter Milligan Library Life. We are fairly competent and interesting folk who make it our business to stay informed about the rapidly evolving information environment impacting all our lives. I think it would be valuable to have us report and reflect periodically on such things as trends in library and information resource technologies, copyright and intellectual property issues, concerns about online freedom and privacy, etc. We could also tell you about developments in the Library or Archives, offer tutorials for using information resources more effectively, tell you about new books and media added to the Library, or review an interesting book we read or a movie we watched.

So here we go. We won’t have any set publication schedule, but we would hope to have at least one or two new posts per week. I will be functioning as the editor, with other Library staff participating as contributing editors, writing on items of interest from their particular areas of expertise. If you are inclined, we would also welcome your comments as a way of generating a conversation. I think it will be fun!

Gary F. Daught, Director of Library Services

View our new Library FAQ!

Got questions about library use or policy? Chances are you can find the answer in our brand-new Library FAQ.

This list of frequently asked questions replaces and expounds on much of the content of its predecessor, the Library Handbook.  The FAQ serves as the Library’s official policy document, and Library staff will update it periodically to reflect our current practices.

Take a look around and let us know what you think.  If you have any questions, please ask!

Library first floor reopens!

The first floor of the Milligan College Library is now fully open and ready for use!

The plastic wall separating the lobby from the rest of the floor has come down, and you won’t believe how much has changed in the past three weeks!  In addition to the new carpet and paint in the reference area, we’ve opened up the former library office area as open space, complete with tables and chairs, for you, our library users.  Our massive DVD collection has moved onto shelves in the newly-opened area, and we’ve reconfigured the old DVD room as a study room, complete with whiteboard (coming soon).  We’ve also got 26 brand-new computers throughout the building, including five IBM ThinkPad laptops and 13 Lenovo netbooks.  They’re configured for wireless and ready for checkout.

If you won’t be back to campus until August, you can check out all our pictures of the remodeling process on our new Milligan College Library Facebook page—be sure to like our page so you don’t miss a thing.

Please note, however, that the library will be closed Friday, August 6th, due to Faculty/Staff workday.  Remember, is always open: you can access online databases, request interlibrary loans, search the online catalog, read an e-book, and much more!

We hope to see you soon!

What’s going on at the library this summer?

Answer: plenty!

Library staff have been busy all summer with a number of exciting projects to make your library more accessible and enjoyable!  The current work began in mid-June, when the old IT area in the basement was cleaned up and painted, and library staff moved in (see photo at right)!  This space is now permanent offices for four members of library staff, and it also houses the staff workroom and Photo Archives.

The area on the main floor that we vacated (see picture at left) will become open space for all library users, with some areas serving as dedicated office space for adjunct faculty.  The area has received a fresh coat of paint, and Physical Plant is removing walls, updating the electrical system, and widening the entrances to make the area more inviting and spacious.

Beginning next Monday, July 12th, the reference area of the main floor of the library will receive a fresh coat of paint and new carpet.  During this time, most of the main floor (with the exception of the lobby, circ desk area, and main stairwell) will be blocked off.  While the computers on the first floor of the library will be inaccessible, the other computers in the building (2nd floor and basement) will be available.  You also can check out laptops for library use only at the Circulation Desk.  The second floor and basement will remain open as always.  Since all the materials on the main floor (DVDs, CDs, VHS, scores, kits, reserves, current theses, etc.) will be unavailable for checkout after the main floor work begins, we’ve decided to extend the due date on all new media checkouts to August 6th as a courtesy to our users.  Since we’ll need to vacate the space by Friday afternoon, we encourage you to come in before 5:oo PM, Friday, July 9th to check out anything you may want or need until August 6th!  Apologies for the short notice, but we just received word about the Friday deadline on Thursday morning!

We’ve posted photos of the work in progress on our Milligan College Library Facebook page, which itself is also a work in progress!  Be sure to “Like” us and check out our photo updates.  We’ll be expanding and improving our Facebook presence as the Fall semester begins, so stay tuned!  You can also keep up with updates here on our library blog and on our Twitter.   

The Million Pennies Campaign for library renovation continues to move forward.  In June 2010, you contributed $49.50 to our efforts, which brings our total to $261.00 for the duration of the campaign.  The library staff would like to extend a hearty thank you to our new June 2010 donors: Susan Bentler, Deven Japengie, and Dr. Bev Schmalzried.  Since the full library renovation is still a few years away, we encourage you to continue to help us reach our goal of $10,000!  Every penny gets us closer to the goal of a dramatically improved library, so we encourage you, our loyal users, to give back generously!

If you’re around this summer, we encourage you to stop by the library to see our improvements!  The library is open 8 AM – 5 PM Monday through Friday until the beginning of the Fall semester, when evening and weekend hours will resume.  Remember, is always open:  you can access online databases, request interlibrary loans, search the online catalog, read an e-book, chat with a librarian, and much more!

Thanks, and enjoy the rest of your summer!  Please contact Jeff Harbin at 423.461.8495 if you have any questions.  See you soon!