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ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies


Online Irony
September/October 2021 Issue

I find it ironic that an anonymous emailer told me that a source I mentioned in an editorial on disappearing data had itself now disappeared. The editorial, titled “Disappearing and Disappeared Data,” appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Online Searcher, and the URL for Data Refuge returned a “Page Not Found” error for the emailer.

There’s a further irony here. Data Refuge has not disappeared. Its URL changed. A simple web search reveals that it can now be found at and that its mission has changed somewhat since its initial appearance. There’s even a Wikipedia page about it that explains its origin and why the original “disappeared” URL reflected its early sponsorship by the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities ( It seems the person who emailed me about the disappearance of Data Refuge is not an information professional, skilled in online searching, otherwise all this information would have been obvious.

Irony in the online search and the library worlds is not limited to changing—and actually disappeared—URLs. There are humorous memes, such as the apocryphal, I hope, sign saying “For books on self-help, ask the librarian.” Or the cartoon of the person asking the librarian for information on paranoia and the librarian whispers, “Look behind you.”

Less amusing are the people who insist they know more about online searching than information professionals, exemplified by the cartoon of the man looking up from his computer to say to his wife, “I found something on the internet that all the world’s top scientists and scholars missed.” I can only imagine her response. Even less amusing is the irony that deepfakes can be more real than reality.

Ironies in metadata exist as well. The Western-oriented, colonial mindset, which determined subject headings for books and thesauri for articles, ignores the reality of Indigenous languages and cultures. Happily, changes are happening in this area, although searchers still need to be on their guard to create effective search strategies.

Back when Ronald Reagan was running for president of the U.S., he contended that one of the scariest sentences ever uttered was, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” I find it ironic that, for many, Reagan’s contention has not changed one whit. We still have legislators without a shred of scientific or technical knowledge making laws, regulations, and rules about scientific and technical issues. A skilled information professional could remedy their ignorance. Building science and technology capacity in government is essential for our emerging digital economy.

On a librarian discussion list, a question was posed about a particular article’s details. The cry for help asked if anyone had access to the publisher’s website to verify the details. A quick check of the librarian’s institutional website revealed subscriptions to EBSCOhost and ProQuest databases that had the full text with the details to answer the question. We’ve gotten so accustomed to the web as the ultimate answer machine that, ironically, we forget the sources we pay for. And the irony that Online Searcher is a print publication, although it appears electronically in many subscription databases, has now been alleviated with the availability of a PDF version.

Marydee Ojala is Editor-in-Chief of Online Searcher (the successor journal to ONLINE) and writes its business research column ("The Dollar Sign"). She has contributed feature articles and news stories to Information TodayEContentComputers in LibrariesIntranetsCyberSkeptic's Guide to the InternetBusiness Information Review, and Information Today's NewsBreaks. A long-time observer of the information industry, she speaks frequently at conferences, such as WebSearch University, Internet Librarian, Internet Librarian International, Computers in Libraries, and national library meetings worldwide. She has adjunct faculty status at the School of Library and Information Science at IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis). Her professional career began at BankAmerica Corporation, San Francisco, directing a worldwide program of research and information services. She established her independent information research business in 1987. Her undergraduate degree is from Brown University and her MLS was earned at the University of Pittsburgh.


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