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Finding Answers IV – This or That

by on September 27, 2021

In reviewing my earlier pieces in Public Libraries Online, about finding and searching for reference answers, I felt a bit like Johnny Carson when Ed McMahon would say, “And there you have all…everything one needs…” Of course Carson’s response was, “Not so fast; not quite everything.”

In all my years of doing and teaching research, and searching for answers, there are two alternative places I like to look when trying to find information I know little about.

The first place is The Reader’s Adviser published by R. R. Bowker in six volumes. Of course the old set I have is the 14th edition, 1994, LCCN # 57-13277. I’ve been unable to find any online equivalent of this set on CD-ROM or digitized, although there appears to be a readers advisor online database available through ABC-CLIO, but seemingly only available to libraries. ALA does have a series called Reader’s Advisory which could be an updated replacement, but has limited subjects. And there is Robert Teeter’s web site having many resources listed as well.

Volume 6 of Reader’s Adviser, is an index of publishers, names, titles, and subjects. The other volumes cover large subjects such as Reference works and Literature, Science & Medical, Philosophy and Religion, Social Sciences, and World Literature. Each section of each volume has broken down bibliographies of the related topics and sub-topics with articles about each of those subject areas. These bibliographies give a person/librarian a good taxonomy of words to use in any online search, as well as additional information about who the experts are, and other possible resources for answers.

A second set of books I like to use, is the two volume set, The Great Ideas; a Syntopicon of the Great Books of the Western World.  This link is a description of the book and its contents at the Hathi-Trust. Many libraries may still have this in their collection. The volumes contain general articles of 102 topics with breakouts of all sub-headings of the topics one might want to know about, and an index of related articles in the 54+ volumes of the “Great Books.” It’s not unlike a clustering search engine in covering many sub-topics.

Now, having mentioned the clustering search engines, I’ve used Karnak, and Clusty–renamed Yippy; neither now exist. One reviewer says, using these is not a good way to locate closely related terms. I disagree. The one I’ve discovered and use now, is Carrot2. Carrot2 is a wonderful program which works well with MS Edge, Firefox, Opera, and other browsers. Doing a search of “search and research” Carrot2 came up with all sorts of research databases and search engine sites including directories of such. You can have the clusters in a list, a tree-map, or pie-chart. I like all three of the presentations.

Looking for answers sometimes brings us to look at many alternatives; generally, the do-it-yourself kind.

Often it is the alternative between easy (do what we can now,) or harder, do what will require more time or money. So this is about some of those alternatives taken.

When it comes to “what-cha-ma-call-it” questions, Thesauruses, Synonym, and Antonym dictionaries don’t always work, but some taxonomies may help. Finding one can be difficult, but this directory and databases of controlled vocabulary, could be useful. It includes the Taxonomy Warehouse which I’ve used on occasion; finding already built taxonomies for clients.

Some years ago when developing a database of candidates for a personnel service firm, I was wondering how best to put all the information about a person’s expertise into a formal database. I knew there were expensive programs out there for that, such as MS Access which we had, but we were in need of something to be done, often, very quickly. Since we already had all the letters and resumes from the candidates scanned in the computer as Word documents, we tried something different. We put all the letters and resumes into a single MS Word file, and were able to search the candidates for their expertise successfully using the “find” command.

Yes; later we took the information and placed it in an MS Access database, but in a burst of speed necessary, we were able to find and print a report of the candidates we needed for presentation to a client.

In another instance, taking notes and photographing them, then adding those photos to a note taking program like EverNote, allowed us to search those notes and bring up the items we needed.  From an article from MakeUseOf I saw a similar suggestion for indexing books not found on Google. One could enter subjects or notes based on chapters at the front or back of the book, and take photos of those notes; put them into EverNote or One Note and be able to search quickly in that same manner.

Working with a collection of rare race car books and photos, which contained information about motor serial numbers, chassis numbers, and other race result information, we needed to develop a new scheme instead of using the Dewey Decimal outline. This was important because the vintage cars being repaired and sold, often required original equipment; and restored cars brought $millions.

We did use the decimal system but gave each type of auto a place; 100s, 200s, 300s, 400s, etc. One of the sections of the scheme included all the manufacturer’s names, another all the pictorial books, thus getting everything together on the shelf similar to the Dewey System, but representing an arrangement of race cars, car manufacturers, and photos. The collection owner used this information for restorations of the cars he bought, and sold. In addition to giving the normal description of the book into our software, BookCat, we were able to add fields and ‘see’ and ‘see also’ notes for a taxonomy which allowed for searching all categories without worry of losing something in the translation of a term used by our foreign neighbors. This was a departure from the regular Dewey which didn’t give us enough depth for these specific fields. I haven’t heard, but we were hoping this collection and the catalog would someday end up at the America’s Auto Museum in Tacoma, WA, where there is a large program for restoring cars.

In one of my earlier pieces in Public Libraries Online, on finding answers, I wrote about the alternate use of cards in a drawer with our experts names on them and their particular expertise. It was somewhat like a card catalog except a topic subject was named, the expert, and a phone number…with the cards filed by topic. This was before PC databases, but could be used as a quick “write it down and enter it later scheme.”

I believe most librarians will find what works for their collections usage—not just doing the standard library descriptions and processes, but looking at how resources are being used and present a much greater access to what is needed and wanted by the public. One can do this often by asking questions of the patrons like, “What is the most important thing you need or need to know?” This often reveals a pattern through others as to what enhancements would be valuable.

Employed by a state prison as Director of Libraries, I realized we were receiving continued questions about businesses. Noticing what was being asked, I then realized we had a need for business planning books and resources. Receiving a grant, we set up a collection of business planning books, and developed a course on business planning for inmates; the course becoming a model for other prison libraries.


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