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Wednesday, June 1, 2011
If you’re interested in the issue of whether big piles of data and simple search engines are sufficient tools for in-depth research, check out Karen Coyle’s latest blog post, “All the ____ in the world.” She talks about how having “everything” isn’t really as good as having a smaller subset of stuff you really want, and how simple search engines aren’t really up to the heavy-duty tasks of research.
Imagining the tools of the future, she says:
The personal database would be able to interact with the world of raw material and with other databases. I can imagine functions like: "get me all of the books and articles from this item's bibliography." Or: "compare my library to The Definitive Bibliography of [some topic]." Or: "Check my library and tell me if there are new editions to any of my books." In other words, it's not enough to search and get; in fact, searching and getting should be the least of what we are able to do.
Wow—wouldn’t it be great to have tools right now that could handle those kinds of queries? That’s definitely something librarians, vendors, researchers, and other interested parties should work on building together.
And when you finish reading Coyle’s article, be sure to follow her link and read about Vannevar Bush’s Memex. In particular, note the date on Bush’s article: 1945. Researchers have been asking for these kinds of data retrieval tools since well before the Information Age. We’ve come a long way, and now we’re finally reaching the point where we at least have the tools to build the tools we need.