How do you find the right information?

With the rise of the Internet and interconnectivity, information is at an all-time high in terms of value and yet is created at a rate that overloads any system that could possibly be created to divine meaning out of this data.  The common term for this is “big data,” which refers to sets of data that are too large to be worked with directly.  In comparison, the Internet is the data set and we, the users, are quickly finding that there is far too much information available to us when we begin a search.  But there are ways to handle this.

Beginning a search is a turning point for any project.  If a concise need can be determined, the search becomes infinitely simpler and the chance of discovering information to meet that need.  As such, there are strategies used to determine exactly what informational need is being researched and how to phrase that need in order to get results.  Originally, before the advent of the search engine, this was where librarians excelled; they were trained in how to take what a person thinks they are looking for and translate that into a possible query for the catalog.

But now that the library has lost is prominence as the main source of information, these skills are being lost to the common researcher.  This is a problem that the search engines as well as online databases have been attempting to solve since their creation.  The original engines, such as Ask Jeeves, took a vernacular question and tried to match it to sources of information.  Unfortunately, this often led to no results.  Now, engines like Google use algorithms in order to determine the relationship between words in the query and the actual need behind them.

This automation reflects the drive for advancing technology that is so common in this age of the Internet, but the skills of the librarian are slowly being lost and replaced by the skills of the search engines.  While the engines can be founded on these skills, a computer cannot yet reach the level of understanding and comprehension a human being can.  As such, it seems that, regardless of how good the system, embracing automation will harm future research.  Computers are not built to draw conclusions from data, they are built to analyze bits and determine if they meet the criteria given in the program.

As such, teaching people how to properly utilize the Internet is truly the next step in advancing knowledge.  This should begin in school, where children are often left to their own methods on how to research for projects, but should also be explained to adults who already have faulty methods of using the technology around them.  While both of these groups will be resistant, the children because they will most likely find research tiresome and adults because they are set in their ways, the education is necessary before the methods are lost to technology.

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