Information Seeking in the Online Age: Principles and Practice

Alastair Smith (School of Communications and Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 August 2000




Smith, A. (2000), "Information Seeking in the Online Age: Principles and Practice", The Electronic Library, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 285-304.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Information Seeking in the Online Age is a textbook about retrieval from electronic databases, and is the successor to the same authors’ Online Searching: Principles and Practice published in 1990. To the extent that it is concerned with searching electronic sources, it is not a complete text for, say, a course in reference work. However, it provides excellent and up‐to‐date coverage of the background, skills and strategies for the effective searching of databases.

The book starts with an overview of the searching process, and a review of the literature of information seeking behavior. It considers the underpinning technologies of electronic information sources such as techniques for subject retrieval and database structures.

The two main methods of information retrieval from electronic sources are seen as being searching and browsing, and the methods associated with these are dealt with thoroughly in separate chapters. The influence of interface design on search systems and search evaluation is considered, along with practical issues relating to the search process, the impact of end‐user searching, and training issues.

Each chapter is soundly based on the literature, and includes a useful list of further references, generally current to 1996 or 1997. To complete a work like this with the three authors separated by the Atlantic requires a high degree of coordination. In general a very consistent look and feel has been achieved, although in some cases the same concept is introduced as if new in separate chapters. For example, precision and recall are independently introduced in both Chapter 6 on searching and in Chapter 10 on search evaluation.

An important contribution of this book is that it integrates discussion of searching the traditional commercial online databases such as Dialog with the searching of the Internet. The search chapter, for instance, considers commercial search software in tandem with the large scale Internet search engines.

While the scope is very comprehensive, there are some areas that could have been dealt with more thoroughly. Given the title, it is a pity that the important area of search strategy and tactics is dealt with in only seven pages, and does not, for instance, draw on Marcia Bates’ contributions. However, search strategy for online searching is to some extent a “black art”, and in a constant state of flux, and the lack of depth here perhaps reflects the absence of a really well developed literature in the area. Evaluation of information, especially on the Internet, is an important area that is glossed over very briefly. There is an increasing demand for information professionals to download, manipulate, synthesize, and organize search results for their customers, and this could have been made the subject of a section of the work.

However, these are relatively small criticisms, and overall Information Seeking in the Online Age deserves a place on the bookshelf of every information searcher, and should be a strong contender as a resource for courses in information searching.

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