Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
SLA Report: Linda M. Hartman
Embracing the Web: Best Practices for Searching the Web for Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology, and Health Technology Information
This half-day continuing education course was taught by Ran Hock of Online Strategies. It was an interesting afternoon. The audience participated by giving comments and anecdotes related to specific resources mentioned in the class.
As anyone who has done a Web search knows, the results can be a large list of sites, usually ranked according to some sort of relevancy rating. A couple of points to keep in mind:
1) It is not necessary to read them all. Scan the list for pertinent ones.
2) Modify the search or try another search engine.
When a good site is found, click on all of the links. Marketing and other factors can cause certain links to be placed at the top of a Web site. The desired information may be hidden down the page.
The following are techniques to find more precise sets of answers:
Boolean connector(s). Use the NOT connector with caution as it is easy to throw out pertinent sites.
Proximity/phrase searching. More precise than the AND connector; some good sites missed.
Limit to title words. Very precise; many relevant sites may be missed.
As can be seen, it is sometimes better to cast a broad net and get false hits than to be too specific and miss applicable ones.
Many searchers are interested in learning about the best sites. It is better to know how to find the best site than to be able to name one or two specifically. This is the strength of the library professional. He or she knows how to find the needed information; it is not necessary to have the facts on the tip of one's tongue. While doing an exhaustive search on a topic or searching for the best site, search one engine and look at the top 20 records retrieved. Search another engine and look at the top 20. Which are the same and which are different? Findings can be increased by 20-50 per cent doing a second search.
Many different search engines are out there. A few were reviewed in detail (AltaVista, Northern Light, and HotBot) while FastSearch and Google were briefly mentioned.
These features can be utilized to analyze and compare the different search engines:
Truncation. Embedded/internal characters; right-hand truncation.
Phrases. How to search them, often with quotes.
Case sensitivity (including accent and diacritical marks). One engine retrieves both but lists the results matching case first; one engine retrieves items in upper case, lower case, or upper and lower case but lists the results matching the case in the query first.
Field searching. Looks for search terms in specific parts of the Web site such as the URL, title, link, host, domain, date, and page type.
Language. Sometimes it is possible to select pages written in specific languages.
Boolean. Methodology can vary between simple and advanced searches, using lower or upper case, plus and minus signs; one engine requires choosing the Boolean phrase option.
Date. Usually available in the advanced mode; helpful to find newer pages after an extensive search.
Images, audio and video. Some engines search these while others do not.
Use upper case for Boolean operators as this works in all of the search engines using them.
Case sensitivity Often it is best to search in lower case. If any letter is capitalized this often indicates the searcher wants the search to be case sensitive.
Use the example given in the help section. How do your results compare to theirs?
Check to see if using the above features is the same in the advance search mode as they are for the simple search.
Evaluating Web Sites
Use the same criteria for selecting databases and Web sites as you do with paper sources. Is there an index? How is the information indexed? Is it easy to use? Use the site maps which accompany many sites. It can be the quickest way to find the desired information.
There are those that are free and others that charge a fee. Which to use? Do a little research to see which best suits your needs.
Metasites and Vortals
Metasites. Small, specialized collections of links.
Vortals. General, industry, or discipline-oriented sites which serve as a gateway and collection of resources (news, events, links).
How does one find metasites? Four techniques were given:
1) search for metasites using a Web search engine;
2) use a specialized Web directory;
3) try Yahoo!;
4) ask a friend.
How does one find vortals?
Try relevant industry, trade, technical, or scientific association home pages;
look at http://www.verticalnet.com;
use a search engine to search a specific industry.
The remainder of the course covered Web resources in pharmacy and health technology. One aspect covered was business information for pharmacy and health technology. Company Web sites have made it easier to locate information about a company; it is no longer necessary to rely solely on company brochures. Remember, however, when reading company home pages there will be no "bad" news there. Business news sources cover recent news only. To obtain older items, it may be necessary to go to pay resources such as NEXIS or DIALOG.
Hock can be contacted through his company's Web site: www.onstrat.com
Linda M. Hartman is Reference Librarian, Falk Library of the Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsyvania. email@example.com