Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tara Schmidt -- the human search engine

"It's like they say, 'librarians like to search; everyone else likes to find,'" said Tara Schmidt.

Every now and then Google, JSTOR, ProQuest, and other portals work wonders. You pose a question, raise a query, and they provide really useful responses? "What's the...," and they finish your question. "Where's the...," and shortly thereafter they tell you. "How many...?" 7, 52, 365 (or, 365.25 or 365.242). They get you the answer, or some thereabouts.

Just so we're clear though: When JSTOR and ProQuest are at their best, they're emulating librarians. When Google is really on its game, it's pretending to be Tara Schmidt, Coordinator of Information Literacy & Assessment, at John Peace Library. In other words, she's a human search engine. And hey, that gets the order wrong: those search engines are in fact mechanical and digital librarians.

Yesterday when Schmidt was talking about the 680 databases owned by John Peace, I also thought about our database connectors. We have these people out in the world who link us and facilitate our access to multiple online databases. They have some sense of how to match us with the the realms of information we seek.

Schmidt, ever the navigator, has been one of our most valued searcher-connectors. I've commented on her status as one of the great connectors before, noting how enthusiastic she is about putting us in touch with the bodies of knowledge out there.

And here's the thing. Our Fellows have been meeting with her for 9 years now, and we never ask enough questions. We settle by asking about our own, ultimately limited projects, for any given summer. Yet, what about the cumulative queries that Schmidt has responded to over the years? What are the most common questions she receives from faculty, and what have been the toughest search challenges she faced? What knowledge does one acquire and hone in the process of addressing so many different researchers?

"It's like they say," Schmidt offered at one point, quoting proverbial wisdom from her field while laughing at herself, "'librarians like to search; everyone else likes to find.'" And then, "But I really do like to search," she said.

AALCI 2018
Visiting the John Peace Library

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