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 Interview with Reva Basch - SUPER SEARCHER

Interview with Reva Basch - SUPER SEARCHER by Marylaine Block

[Reva Basch is the author of Secrets of the Super Net Searchers and 
Researching Online For Dummies, and is the (W)rap Columnist for 
ONLINE magazine.]

How do you stay current with new developments in research and 
technology?  What do you read, what sites do you routinely visit, 
what list serves or discussion groups, etc.?

I subscribe to several e-newsletters and daily or semi-weekly news
updates. Years ago, I signed up for half a dozen or so publications 
in HTML through Netscape's Inbox Direct. I've dropped some of them, 
but I'm still getting Wired News and C|Net News, as well as the New 
York Times' Technology update. I also get half a dozen or so 
newsletters in ASCII, including Edupage, NewsScan (a spinoff by the 
former editors of Edupage), Bob Seidman's Online Insider, and a very 
interesting one called The Rapidly Changing Face of Computing, put 
out by a fellow named Jeff Harrow (I think; I don't have a copy at 
hand to verify) at Compaq. 

Of course I subscribe to Danny Sullivan's Search Engine Report; and
that reminds me periodically to go take a look at Greg Notess' site
http://www.notess.com, and occasionally I go back to Danny's Search
Engine Watch site for more detailed information on something he's
written about http://www.searchenginewatch.com/. I also read 
Outsell's e-Brief http://www.outsellinc.com/ for news about the 
online industry. 

One pub that I enjoy just for fun is Netsurfer Digest 
http://www.netsurf.com/nsd/index.html; it covers some weird and/or 
interesting sites in an intelligent, funny, and non-hyped way. I 
used to subscribe to Net-Happenings, but I just couldn't keep up. 
Same thing with BUSLIB-L; the volume is just so great that it quickly 
gets out of hand. I actually don't follow many listservs anymore; the 
signal-to-noise ratio is so low on many of them. I do subscribe to a 
computer book writers list, and to my professional association's 
listserv, AIIP-L, which is restricted to members of the Association 
of Independent Information Professionals http://www.aiip.org/. 

I pick up a lot of information about new sources and technologies on 
The WELL http://www.well.com/, an online community I've been a part
of since 1988. Folks there are exceedingly well informed about both 
current technologies and emerging trends; in fact, a lot of 
trend-MAKERS hang out there, and you can eavesdrop on their 
conversations, so to speak, or pick their brains informally. 

As for print pubs, I read Online, Database (now eContent) 
http://www.onlineinc.com, Searcher, and Information Today 
http://www.infotoday.com/, and the CyberSkeptic's Guide to Internet 
Research http://www.bibliodata.com/skeptic/skepdata.html, as well as
PriceWatcher, Bibliodata's new newsletter about online pricing 
http://www.bibliodata.com/pw/pwdata.html. I look at The Information 
Advisor newsletter http://www.findsvp.com/publications/infoadvisor/;
I used to be a contributing editor. I still read WIRED 
http://www.wired.com/, though it no longer feels, to me, like it's 
on the bleeding edge of technology. I look at Upside 
http://www.upside.com/ for the Silicon Valley business perspective,
and Brill's Content, which covers media issues in general but devotes
a considerable chunk of space to the web and electronic content. I 
used to subscribe to Fast Company and The Industry Standard, but 
dropped them both -- information overload. I also look at the Special
Libraries Association's monthly Information Outlook 
http://www.sla.org/, and at a Canadian journal called Information 
Highways http://www.flexnet.com/~infohiwy/. I'm sure I'm 
forgetting something!

In overseeing your new series of Super Searcher books, what are
the most interesting things you've learned from the Super Searchers?

It's hard to summarize. The first book in the new series, Super 
Searchers Do Business, by Mary Ellen Bates, is about business 
searching and was just published in June. The second one, by 
T.R. Halvorson, an attorney and legal researcher, is called Law of 
the Super Searchers and will be out in the fall. We have titles 
on finance and investment, medical and healthcare information, and 
news and current events lined up after that. Information Today, Inc. 
is the publisher, and they're very excited about and extremely 
supportive of the series. 

I'd say that the single most interesting thing I've learned from the
"new" super searchers so far is that -- despite the rise of the web 
and all the other technological changes that the web has brought 
about, not to mention the tremendous expansion in content and in our 
options for accessing that content -- the skills required to be a 
successful researcher really have not changed. It still takes 
creativity, above all, a flexible approach to problem-solving, a good
command of language, the ability to discern subtle connections and to 
make intuitive leaps instead of just proceeding down an orderly, 
linear path. Those skills -- or maybe they're characteristics one is 
born with -- still define a virtuoso searcher, as they did when I 
published the original Secrets of the Super Searchers in 1993, and 
Secrets of the Super Net Searchers in 1996. I feel strongly that they 
will continue to do so. Yes, you can take training and learn on the 
job, but to be more than a merely competent researcher -- to be an 
INSPIRED one --  you really have to have it inside you. It isn't 
something you learn. 

Of all the new developments in search technologies, which ones
do you think librarians need to pay most attention to?  

Natural language querying and search processing, XML and other 
meta-data schemes, and whatever enhancements the next generation of 
search engines comes up with. We're seeing a lot of differentiation 
among search engines today, especially in how they present the data 
to us. Northern Lights with its Custom Folders is just one example. 
I'm also interested in new algorithms for retrieving and ranking 
search results. With Boolean searching, we usually defaulted to date, 
most recent first. Web engines generally rank by relevance. Now we 
see experiments in collaborative filtering, where the position of an 
item on your hit list is determined by what other people thought of 
that resource, or how many other sites (especially sites generally 
regarded as important or authoritative) link to it, or its popularity 
as measured by the amount of traffic to it. It's a fascinating idea, 
and worth keeping an eye on. 

In a world where patrons want and expect full-text when they sit down
at a computer, what do you think will happen with traditional 
databases which have only citations and abstracts?  

And indexing, too, I assume. That's such an interesting question, 
because abstract-and-index databases add so much control and 
precision to searching, and do so much to streamline the evaluation 
of search results. I started life -- my professional life, 
anyway -- as an engineering librarian. I loved to search Ei 
Compendex, NTIS, Inspec, all those technology databases. But if a 
database record you're interested in stops with a cite and an 
abstract, you're faced with the document delivery problem. As your 
question implies, that's archaic. I think the solution lies in hybrid 
databases where you can elect to do a controlled vocabulary search or 
confine your search to the abstract where the most important concepts 
are likely to appear, then search the full text if you haven't found 
what you want. In any event, the full text should be there, or a
hyperlink away, whether on the web or on a CD-ROM or wherever. 

Do you think publishers will continue to offer small, highly targeted 
databases, or do you think the future belongs to large aggregated

Your questions are so good!  I still mourn the demise of Coffeeline 
on Dialog. If small, highly targeted databases die out, it won't be 
for lack of interest or utility, but because of economics and the 
fiercely competitive struggle for attention in today's information 
marketplace. Important, research-intensive segments of the 
economy -- biomedical researchers, chemists, financial analysts and 
investment bankers, for example -- are well served by specialized 
information providers using systems and software that no general 
vendor of aggregated databases could possibly match. For now, at 
least, although there are signs of aggregation on the web, the nature 
of the beast is working against it. What I think MIGHT happen is that 
search engines -- or maybe bots, software entities that we program to 
keep abreast of our research interests -- will become so 
sophisticated that we can present them with our research request and
they'll go out and check all the appropriate databases, small and 
large, aggregated and un-, using whatever query language each 
individual database understands, and taking advantage of all the 
special features they offer, and return to us with the answer or data 
sets we need: Voila!   But then, I've always been a technology 

Thanks Reva.  I learned so much from you in your presentations
at Nylink and Internet Librarians that I was delighted to have the 
chance to pass it on to Free Pint's readers.

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Marylaine Block is a writer, Internet trainer, and librarian without 
walls (formerly  a librarian at St. Ambrose University where she 
created a web site called Best Information on the Net).  Find out 
more at http://marylaine.com/.

Marylaine produces ExLibris: a weekly e-zine for librarians and other
information junkies, which poses questions, issues, and possible 
solutions or directions, for librarians and other users of 
information technologies.

Reva Basch, Aubergine Information Services, is the author of Secrets 
of the Super Net Searchers and Researching Online For Dummies, and
is the (W)rap Columnist for ONLINE magazine. Reva can be contacted by
email reva@well.com or at http://www.well.com/user/reva.
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This interview is reprinted from http://www.freepint.co.uk/
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