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ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies


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Recommended Reading for Librarians and Info Pros
November/December 2019 Issue

The books reviewed in this issue’s Hard Copy emphasize the importance of librarians and information professionals continuing to have an active involvement in online research. Google expert Daniel M. Russell offers an engaging take on the need for thoughtful, informed online research strategies. Sandra Hirsh revisits the wide scope of technologies, collections, service, and skills that the profession brings to the table. Personal Librarians: Building Relationships for Student Success outlines four academic librarians’ insights on building and maintaining a productive outreach, instruction, and research help program for students. Additionally, Marydee Ojala reviews Peter Lor’s tome on international librarianship.

The Joy of Search
4 Stars - Excellent

The Joy of Search: A Google Insider’s Guide to Going Beyond the Basics

By Daniel M. Russell
ISBN: 978-0-2620-4287-1
Published: 2019
Pages: 336
Price: $29.95 (hardback)
Available from: MIT Press, One Rogers Street, Cambridge, MA 02142-1209;

Daniel M. Russell has a passion for research, and he wants to share it with you. A search industry expert and senior research science for search quality at Google, Russell has written an immensely engaging book that aims to help everyone, not only information professionals, learn how to go beyond basic word and phrase searching in Google (or any other search engine) to truly take advantage of the powerful search tools at our disposal. He believes that learning how to research should join reading, writing, and arithmetic as the basic literacy skills that everyone needs to learn.

A big problem, familiar to most librarians, is the resistance we meet when trying to teach someone how to do research. In the acknowledgment section of his book, Russell writes, “My appreciation to Mimi Ito for reminding me that most people think of online research as a pedestrian skill that shouldn’t need any teaching. That’s a humbling perspective that’s completely right. She pointed out that this book needs to be intrinsically interesting. She’s correct.” Russell has fulfilled both requirements in this fascinating, entertaining, and immensely useful book.

The book is based on Russell’s popular SearchResearch blog (, which regularly presents search challenges and asks readers to submit their strategies for finding the answers. Although Russell works at Google, he’s the first person to admit when another search tool works better. For example, an Aug. 8, 2019, posting discusses how to identify a particular piece of cylindrical equipment found on a ship. When Google’s Search-By-Image doesn’t yield results, Russell tries Bing and Yandex—still nothing. But adding more keywords to the Search- By-Image form yields the answer (it’s a winch). However, another reader submits how he immediately found the answer using Bing. Russell observes, “By contrast, if I do the same search using Google’s Search-By-Image (using exactly the same cropped image), Google strikes out! Lesson learned: Try multiple search engines!”

The book is comprised of 16 essays laying out similar research questions and how Russell solved them using various research strategies and online tools. The first eight chapters concentrate primarily on research skills or “tactics,” and Chapters 10–18 delve into more detailed search strategies.

Russell’s writing style is clear and conversational, and he has made sure to present his topics in an interesting, engaging way. As proof, here are some of his chapter titles:

  • “Why Are the Coasts So Different? How to Use Online Maps Resources to Answer Broad Geographic Questions”
  • “Can You Die From Apoplexy or Rose Catarrh? How to Find (And Use) Old, Sometimes- Archaic or Obsolete Terminology”
  • “The Mystery of the Parrotfish, or Where Does That White Sand Really Come From? How to Triangulate Multiple Sources to Find a Definitive Answer”

Finding archaic terminology, such as “rose catarrh” from the time of the American Civil War, involves a Google search for rose catarrh, which leads to a 1913 Webster’s definition (“a variety of hay fever, sometimes attributed to the inhalation of the effluvia of roses.” A further search, “rose catarrh” 19th century, yields several reputable online resources saying that this is another name for hay fever. It’s worthwhile to note that while the search tools presented in these examples primarily use those created by Google (Google Books Ngram Viewer, Google Street View, Google Earth, and Google Scholar), the overall search strategies can be used with benefit with other platforms as well.

Chapter 19, “On Being a Great Searcher: Rules of Thumb for Asking Great Questions,” distills Russell’s years of experience observing professional and novice searchers into a few key recommendations. Characteristics that are common among good searchers include figuring out what the question really is, contextualizing what they find, understanding how search interfaces work, and validating the resources they find and use. Chapter 20, “The Future of Online Search: Why the Research Skills You Learn Today Will Continue to Be Useful in the Future,” offers a fascinating glimpse of the state of online research and trends in 5 to 10 years. This book is required reading for anyone wanting to take their research seriously, whether they are information professionals or non-LIS searchers. It is a terrific resource for information literacy instruction, reference work, and LIS education.

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Jennifer A. Bartlett is interim associate dean, Teaching, Learning & Research Division, University of Kentucky Libraries.


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