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Google’s Dan Russell on Search

According to Google researcher (who also calls himself a cyber-tribal-techno-cognitive-anthropologist) Dan Russell, most people learn how to search from friends (and a little bit from classes) and they remember stories. He tells stories about what he’s learned from searching in his book The Joy of Search (MIT Press) and his wonderful blog (

People have mental models about libraries and what the library does. Is Google omniscient?

How people search, identify, locate, evaluate sources.

How does Google work? Is it: Completely keyword search; Fulltext indexing; Partial text indexing; Link anchors; Blended results; What’s covered in the index?

When he asks people to draw a picture about how search works: 33% have the word “magic” in them.

Without a mental model, you can’t make predictions. What breaks your mental model of Google? It has a staggering amount of books, video, images, and documents.

But there are still difficult questions

What was the population of Japan in 1490?

How much apartment housing should San Francisco have?

It’s good to know what you can and cannot search. You can search on symbols, images

He can search on an image of what looks like an insect bite and surrounding rash on his son’s arm, but it’s not likely to tell him much

There’s an app that will identify mushrooms but how reliable is it? (only survivors get to rate the app)

Aerial photo of building in Palo Alto from years ago– Use time slider on Google Earth


What can you search for? What’s possible? Where to look? Google StreetView, Earth, others

Go through various iterations to get to answer.


He then told two search stories based on his experience, one about a phone number in Warsaw and the other a historical account of Perry on Delos. These are taken from his book and well worth reading.

It’s important to remember that not everything is on the web

Use CTR-F to find on a page. Surprising to me, Dan claims that 90% of people don’t know this trick.

Know the conventions of the culture:

Spoof sites (part of genre of internet culture is creating spoof sites

You tube is where people go to learn – do we know how to point people to high quality videos


The way we’re asking questions is changing

It’s always been a skill

Now it’s a critical skill

An interesting trick to find information about a website without going to the website is to search sitename –site:sitename

Site assessment is a basic skill

EPA Facts ( versus Environmental Policy Alliance

We need to design info systems to support informacy and continual learning

We need to teach our students about how to use all of our information systems

Augment skills of ordinary people

Search is not intuitive.

The latest post on SearchResearch is all about how  and how often searchers fact-checked. Well worth the read!



Resetting the Future at CILIL Connect

Lee Rainie, Pew Research Institute, looks at resetting the future in his opening keynote address at Computers in Libraries Internet Librarian Connect 2020. He shares research on Americans and libraries in crisis times: A major takeaway: People are using technology differently as their lives are upended. What Pew has studied since March and how it affects libraries.

No surprise here: Pew’s research reveals that the U.S. is a nation in the midst of very contentious issues.

Implications of race producing disparate results about COVID, with more minorities getting sick. Economic impact other major part of this story. And this hits lower income adults harder. Majority of Americans support BLM. Conversations about race have gone way up. More participation in protests and not just young and urban folks. Polarization is rampant and public trust in the federal government just keeps getting lower. The good news: Trust in libraries is still high. Pew polls are usually face to face but because of COVID, couldn’t do that, so fewer countries are represented

Americans are worried about voting in the midst of COVID and public has little confidence in tech companies to prevent misuse of their platforms during election.

American increasingly think that climate change is a major threat to the wellbeing of the US but it’s more Democrats than Republicans.

Enormous uptick in use of internet and adults are relying on it. New activities such as parties, watching concerts, going to fitness classes, getting groceries online. And, of course, we’re Zooming more. There’s a lot more gaming.

Libraries: Sanctuary, trusted information resource, family helper, community strengthener, democracy anchor. People rely on librarians to help them navigate our confusing information landscape, particularly when it comes to misinformation about COVID. Made-up news is a bigger problem than many other key issues. There’s a wide partisan gap in who’s getting the fats correct on coronavirus. 59% of lower income people struggle with homework online. Palpable hunger for grassroots solutions, talk honestly with their neighbors. Majority of Americans say the country can always find ways to solve our problems and libraries are institutions of hope.

Halo effect of librarian carries over from publics to other types of libraries. Higher levels of civic engagement now. Libraries are seen as safe havens for diverse conversations. When people are talking to each other via computer it’s not really a conversation. People feel more OK with not being nice to each other. Libraries are in public education business. Solving problems together, shoulder to shoulder, is easy way to foster cooperation and understanding.

Come Back Next Year!

Save the Date

CIL 2019 has concluded.  As usual, there were many new and fascinating topics highlighted in the presentations.  You can see the speakers’ presentations here.

Be sure and mark your calendar now with the date for CIL2020!

Best wishes.

Preparing Libraries For the Digital Future

Peter Velikonja

Peter Velikonja

Peter Velikonja, Head, Research, Koios, LLC, presented a fascinating discussion of what communities want using Google Search data. Koios loves libraries; how do we raise awareness of them? Libraries are the epicenters of information. How do we make the connection between what the library has and what the public wants. The Toronto Public Library displays feeds of what users are searching, which is an indication of what the public wants. Here is a sample:

Toronto searches

We make sense of random words falling from the sky by putting out “buckets” to collect words and sorting them according to our interests, then categorizing them according to importance.

You can also find what people are typing into Google by looking at Ad Words, which will show you the average monthly volume of searches–indicators of interest. An advertiser uses these ideas to form a grouped set of keywords called a campaign. Ad Words can also tell you the volume in targeted metropolitan areas and compare it to the population of the areas, which leads to the community insights. Ranking the campaigns gives the top subjects searched. Libraries can use this to tailor their services. For example, in the “My 311” category, the top term is “hospital near me”, and in genealogy, it is “obituaries”.

311 top terms

Comparing libraries to the US standard shows interests in communities across the country. They are quite similar. Then you can look at hot keywords by town. They are indicators of focused local interest. Unique keywords show you unusual interests of individual communities that libraries can investigate. (See for examples.)This type of information is wide and flat. Normal strategic plans don’t include the population and are aligned with existing library users. This is one way of getting out of the library and getting data on the community. You can compare your community with Google searches. Some things are at the top in the library that are not at the top in Google.