Thursday, December 2, 2010

21st Century Advice for an Old Problem

Part Two of the book, “Getting Organized in the Google Era” by Douglas Merrill, titled “The New Organization and How to Achieve It,” gets down to the nitty-gritty of 21st Century organization skills. In the first chapter, Merrill debunks another “commonly held assumption” – that organizing solutions are (or can be) the same for each and every one of us. We have proven this to be false ourselves through all of the discussions we have had in our Declutter Club meetings. This may be because each of our organizing needs is different but it also has to do with our temperaments, styles and skills or experiences. He points out that there are “fundamental guidelines to being organized that can apply to many people in many circumstances – things like to-do lists, carrying a small notebook at all times and putting everything in a certain place and remembering where that place is” (page 73) but adds what he sees as a fundamental certainty to the “new organization we need now” the following principle: “Don’t file your information, search for it.” And by saying search for it, he means doing an electronic search either on your computer or on the Internet. I would also add that if things continue as they are now, things like to-do lists and carrying a small notebook will soon be digital for almost everyone either on their hand-held device or their phone (or on some technology we can’t even imagine) which will make searching even those items possible and practical.

He spends the next chapter discussing the “art of the search.” We, as librarians, think of ourselves as search experts because we do this “for a living” but his advice comes from “inside” one of the most popular search engine companies ever: Google. A few of his tips, which start on page 63, are: 1) pay attention to the words you use in your search - entering a singular or plural noun can affect the outcome of your search since Google interprets your search phrase to determine your intent; 2) use as many descriptive and essential words as possible to target your search but skip the common works like a, the, how, where, etc.; 3) Use quotation marks around a phrase if you are looking for an exact phrase to occur in a web page but search strings are not case sensitive even inside the quotations; 4) add adjectives to your search to get closer to your desired answer – use words like cheap or new or small and add a tilde (~) directly in front of a word to have Google search for your word (cheap) and other words like it (affordable, inexpensive, etc.) or use the (Boolean) search term OR and suggest your own alternatives (the tilde “wild card” may not work in other search engines); 5) Exclude what you don’t want to include in your results by using a minus sign (-) directly in front of the word or use the word NOT. Because of this feature, using the word “not” in your search string as something you are looking for may backfire on you – for instance, searching for the title Death be Not Proud will exclude any websites that mention the word “proud” in your results. This is a perfect example of when to search the phrase using quotation marks.

There is so much information to share, I will continue with this topic in my next blog but in the meantime, Google (and I suspect other search engines) have a cheat sheet to their shortcuts posted right on their homepages albeit hidden in the small print. In Google, you can get a handy list of these tips under Advanced Search>Advanced Search Tips. I will be discussing ways that we have already started to use technology to assist us with organizing in tonight’s Declutter Club meeting, December 2, 2010 at the library. Hope to see you there.