The Elusive Search

I had a rather interesting reference encounter tonight in the Children’s Department. A couple came in needing information (for their child) about the Nile River and Chaitén, a volcano in Chile. The first topic search was pretty straightforward: I did a keyword search in our online catalog, VuFind, for “Nile River” and turned up plenty of books in two main Dewey sections, the 916s and 962s. The 916s is geography and travel of Africa, while the 962s represent general history of Africa: Egypt and Sudan. One of these days, I shall take a closer look at these books to see how the catalogers made the distinction.

The second topic gave me a lot of trouble. A keyword search for “Chaitén” didn’t yield any results, so I did a Google search to verify that the spelling was correct and that such a volcano existed! Yes, there is such a volcano and there were some information on the web via Wikipedia and such which the student was not allowed to use. Since nothing registered in the catalog under “Chaitén,” I went broader and searched for books under “volcanoes.” The parents and I looked through the indexes of these books and found only one that listed Chaitén (and only a paragraph of information at that). We also looked through books about Chile, also with no success. My next step was to check out our online databases, such as the encyclopedias and reference e-resources. I had no luck there, either. At this point, the children’s librarian jumped in to help. She came up with other possible search terms, such as Mt. Chaitén, that this particular geographic feature might be listed under. This was a search technique that I learned in my online searching class- coming up with alternative search terms that the topic may be listed under. Alas, we still came up empty. In the end, the librarian asked the parents to go downstairs to adult services to see if they could find anything in their resources, such as an atlas.

This was an interesting exercise in searching though all possible resources (or what seemed like it!) and still coming up empty! However, the internet was a useful resource in refining the search…which only shows that librarians should not hesitate to use Google (judiciously) if it helps them get what their patrons need.