August 9th, 2008

Is Nationalist Arrogance Messing Up Your Search?

Okay, so I got your attention with that title. It’s not really like that, but there is a kernel of truth to the question: it can be very hard to limit your library search to articles that focus on the United States.

It was a question that came up several times at the Dallas colloquium. Many learners complained about trying to find research about the U.S., only to get result lists full of articles about China, Canada, and every country in between. They all wanted to know: how do you stop that from happening?

The short answer is you really can’t.

Here’s why:

The U.S. is a really big country that produces a ton of scholarly research. There are also hundreds upon hundreds of journals published in the United States that focus on domestic research. Because the U.S. is such a big piece of the research pie, authors don’t think to include the words in an article title or abstract. It almost goes without saying.

Compounding the problem is the sheer size of the United States. Many researchers confine themselves to studying something in a single state or city. They may write about crime prevention in Los Angeles or health care legislation in Florida. It’s basically impossible to include every major American place name in your search.

Foreign researchers only make the problem worse. Since the U.S. is so dominant in many research fields, researchers working in other countries often talk about the U.S. or include American research studies in their literature reviews.

So, what can you do?

Scan the titles on your result list. Chances are good that if an article does not mention another country in the title, then it’s probably about the U.S.

Check your keywords. There may be useful keywords for your topic that are unique to the United States (No Child Left Behind, FBI, Congress, etc.) or look for results that include keywords with specific American English spellings (-or/-our and -ize/-ise).

If you notice a particular country popping up a lot, tell the database to exclude it. This can remove articles that contain helpful comparisons, but it can also help you focus a search topic that is popular around the world. To do this, use the not. Here’s an example from Business Source Complete:

Any other quesitons? Ask a Librarian.

-Erin

Comments

Comment from Richard X. Thripp
Time August 23, 2008 at 11:54 am

This is why library catalogs are going to have to move toward Google-like relevance searching. Keyword relevance, weighted fields (titles are more important), and perhaps even patron voting can help bring the most important stuff to the top.

I know librarians spend a lot of time weeding their collections to overcome the current search technologies. If we can get results to be more relevant, weeding will be less necessary. The resources that are obscure can prove invaluable for specialized reports, yet fall to the bottom of the list with the more relevant stuff above.

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Time February 27, 2010 at 11:31 am

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Time May 22, 2010 at 9:50 am

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