Having finished two weeks of database training with the 1st year law students, there a few disjointed and loosely connected thoughts that have occurred to me. I should probably spend a bit more time ruminating on these before I post; however, this is the interweb, so half-baked thoughts are the order of the day. I was happy with how the students did this year but a few things jump out. Keyword searching is great, I use it all the time but I have also been keyword searching for a long time and have some specialized training in searching. If you are new to an area or to search operators in general, forgo keyword searching and look for indexes or browse functionality where experts have gone before you and done the heavy lifting. If you are in law school and especially first year law school, the work has been done before, by experts in the field, don’t try to reinvent the wheel.
I think the prevalence of keyword searching has made people lose track of the interconnectedness of information. With keyword searching you don’t necessarily see the connections between the layers of information that you are using. This is especially significant in law where legislation, caselaw, secondary sources and proper citation are all intrinsically linked. People who are accustomed to typing a few words into a search engine don’t always seem to fully comprehend that they are looking for a linked chain rather that a result list from a keyword search.
As much as I like Google and use it constantly, I place the blame for over-reliance on keyword searching at Google’s doorstep. It is in light of this that the following article caught my attention having been tweeted by a colleague a short time ago: “Google is polluting the internet: The danger of allowing an advertising company to control the index of human knowledge is too obvious to ignore”. The idea of a public search engine or in other terms, a collaborative public project on the organization of knowledge is one that I find appealing.