Information Seeking in the Online Age: Principles and Practice

Ian R. Murray (Lecturer, Department of Information Science, Loughborough University, UK)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 1 February 2000




Murray, I.R. (2000), "Information Seeking in the Online Age: Principles and Practice", Library Management, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 49-55.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

To anyone except members of the information professions the notion of “information seeking” as a topic of special interest may at first seem strange. With the developments in information technology information appears to be readily and easily available. Perhaps the precursor to this volume: Online Searching: Principles and Practice (Keen, Large, Tedd and Hartley, 1990) had more claim to speciality. That volume, published ten years ago, seemed to fit four‐square in the provenance of the library and information profession. Even if the claim was made by the authors that online searching is an increasingly commonplace activity … practised by a growing number of end‐users – scientists, managers, doctors, lawyers and accountants and so on” (p. vii), that volume did focus on topics and specialisms still very much in the territory of information specialists.

The current volume represents a significant departure from its predecessor; it embraces completely the advances in technology and the emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web. As such it acknowledges, rightly, the need to provide an updated and revised treatment of this subject. Whilst the authors make modest claims concerning the scope of the work, I think they rather undersell the book’s significance. They say, for example, that the book is intended to offer “a little advice backed up with well‐chosen examples” (p. viii) and they state the aim as being “to help you, the reader, to browse and search online databases, online library catalogues, CD‐ROMs of all kinds and the World Wide Web in order to effectively and efficiently find that which you are seeking” (p. viii). Achieving this aim, on reflection, is no small undertaking, and this very professional book is the result of the combined years of expertise and research, which the authors possess in this specialised area.

The book can be read with interest by a far wider audience than the previous volume. The subject‐matter is for the most part an in depth coverage of the principles that lie behind searching and browsing strategies, interface design, and the organisation of information in electronic databases. The book can be directed to students at library schools who are studying the development and use of information retrieval. The thorough research and experience of the authors are in particular revealed by the excellence of the references provided at the end of each chapter. The book is also handsomely and comprehensively furnished with illustrations and tables, which add enormously to its accessibility and explanatory value. What particularly distinguishes it from the previous book is the greater emphasis on the practical issues of information searching, the recognition that browsing is an important part of information seeking, especially made possible by the World Wide Web, the discussion and analysis of the various kinds of interface now available. If I have a criticism of this text it has to be that the final chapter on Search Evaluation is too brief and, whilst discussing the particular problems posed by WWW, does not appear to tackle the unique problems posed by these media. That is how to evaluate a search that spans an infinitely expanding universe of information. Standard retrieval measure‐ments do not apply.

It may be that it is not a completely comprehensive textbook on information retrieval or database construction, but it is a much‐needed text on the applicability and need of information skills in this the online age. Yet perhaps the increased scope and accessibility of this book raise the question: what now is so significant about this area as to have a claim to be dealt with separately? We can be sure too that if the claim before was that people other than librarians were using online searching tools, we can be certain today that an increasing number of people are becoming used to searching the Internet, of whom only a fraction will be librarians. And if they can search and seek out information, do we need specialists?

In my opinion what we are seeing in today’s society is not the decline of the need for information professional skills but rather the increasing need for almost every citizen to become equipped with searching or seeking skills. Somewhat paradoxically this might see the submergence of the library profession as a dedicated easily identifiable group but it need not spell doom for the information workers who are best equipped to teach and advise others how to navigate in the electronic universe. It may be that this text could be one of the few, written by experts in the field of information for the consumption by the student, the professions and the general public. As such it will be a significant work indeed.

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