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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2008

Book Reviews

The MLA Essential Guide to Becoming an Expert Searcher

Thomas Harrod
Biology Librarian
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland

Copyright 2008, Thomas Harrod. Used with permission.

The Medical Library Association Essential Guide to Becoming an Expert Searcher: Proven Techniques, Strategies, and Tips for Finding Health Information. Terry Ann Jankowski. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2008. 150pp. ISBN: 978-1-55570-622-7. $65.00.

Intended for both librarians and library school students, the purpose of this book is to help those who perform mediated searches develop and perfect their skills. Specifically, the search process is broken down into its component parts and each is explored in detail in the chapters of this book.

The first skill to be addressed is the reference interview, including the questions which the searcher should ask the patron as well as the expectations and possible limitations which should be conveyed to the user during the reference interview. Following that, there are several chapters which explore a variety of issues related to the selection of an appropriate article database(s) for a given research need -- these chapters include key questions that an expert searcher should ask when selecting an article database (e.g., how often is the database updated? Is there a thesaurus? etc.) as well as an extensive annotated list of important health- and bioscience-related article databases.

The next topic covered in this book is the construction of a search, including a number of common techniques such as the use of Boolean operators and proximity operators as well as more advanced methods such as pearl growing, the building block method, and the successive fractions method. The next couple of chapters deal with various techniques for maximizing search results -- topics discussed include natural language versus controlled vocabularies (i.e. thesauri - including the Medical Subject Headings, MeSH, from PubMed), cited reference searching, as well as tips for modifying searches when too many or too few results are retrieved.

Following that there is a discussion of resources and techniques that can be used by searchers to keep their skills current -- including mailing lists, publications, blogs, discussion lists, and other resources to facilitate staying up to date on the latest advances in searching.

The author, Terry Ann Jankowski, is an academic librarian at the University of Washington in Seattle who has taught classes, presented posters, and published articles on information searching. In addition she has served on numerous MLA task forces on information searching.

The book contains an index and glossary, as well as an extensive annotated list of articles and other resources to provide further information on the topics covered in this book. Each chapter contains exercises which challenge the reader to apply the concepts that have been covered. These will help the reader to evaluate his or her skill level and determine the areas which may require further study and practice.

Although focusing mainly on health-related searches, this book would also be useful for helping librarians covering other disciplines in the creation of search strategies as most of the tips are general enough to be applied to other subject areas. I would especially recommend this book to new librarians and library school students but it would also be useful to librarians at any level looking to brush up on their search skills.

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