November 28, 2007

If You Search, Read This Book

I'm preparing for another semester of teaching Digital Information Services & Providers, or as I like to call it, "Advanced Reference." At the start of the semester, we review some favorite resources from reference like Academic Search Premier and LexisNexis, and we study new sources like Web of Science and Dialog. We also talk about free search engines like Ask, Exalead, and Yahoo!

There's a great new book that explains these and other search engines, and also covers directory sites like Yahoo!'s directory and the Open Directory. Ran Hock's book The Extreme Searcher's Internet Handbook : A Guide for the Serious Searcher. (2nd ed. CyberAge Books, 2007) clearly explains these topics and more.

Hock starts out with a chapter on "Basics for the Serious Searcher," which provides a brief chronology of the Internet, explains general Web directories and search engines, and offers sensible strategies for formulating a search. Hock talks about older content as well, describing the Wayback Machine, a treasure trove of archived Internet material. This chapter also provides 4 pages on evaluating what you find on the Web and briefly discusses copyright.

Hock's next chapter describes basic directories like Yahoo!'s directory and the Open Directory in more detail than in the first chapter, and he describes one of my favorite directories, the Librarians' Internet Index, which includes tens of thousands of Web sites carefully chosen and annotated by librarians. Chapter 3 describes more directories, broken into categories like law, education, and the US government; Hock describes a few subject-specific directories in each category.

Chapters 4 and 5 cover the basics and specifics of search engines, and both are full of interesting tidbits for Web searchers. It includes a link to Search Engine Shortcuts, a handy page that Hock maintains showing how to do specific searches in Ask,Google, and Yahoo!. These include currency conversion, airport information / delays, and UPC code lookups.

Later chapters cover newsgroups; finding images, audio, and video; as well as blogs, podcasts, and creating your own Web sites. The book concludes with a handy 9-page glossary, which defines Boolean concepts, podcasts, relevance & recall, and technical terms like Ajax, FTP, and HTML.

The topics in the book are useful, but what's best about it is Hock's clear and descriptive language. He knows this material like a librarian, but he talks about it like a normal person. Finally, Hock maintains a page with all the links mentioned in each chapter. If you can't read the book, you might want to glance through these links, focusing on the topics that most interest you. (And if you have the opportunity to see him speak at a conference, take it; he's a great and generous speaker)

Everyone is pretty good at Web searching -- but we could all use a boost from time to time. Ran Hock's book is filled with great boosting techniques and will be required for my class. I encourage you to buy it or check it out @ your library.

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