March Journal Club – The Boolean is Dead?

Hi everyone! If, like me, you work as an instruction/reference/liaison/research librarian in an Australian university library, then I guess that you’re really busy right now! Here at my place of work, we’re in the midst of delivering umpteen lectures, presentations, demonstrations, workshops, drop-in sessions and one-on-one consultations to undergraduates, postgraduates and higher degree research candidates. It’s coming to the end of Week 3 of Session 1 for 2018 here, and many of our students are staring down the barrel of looming assignment deadlines, or simply need to get on the front foot developing skills that will take them through the session, the degree, or the thesis that is ahead.

Since we’re all so busy, it might be hard for us to find time for extra reading, let alone time to develop and write some insightful commentary on March’s article of the monthThe Boolean is Dead, Long Live the Boolean!

Never fear, I’m here to help! Below I’m posing a number of questions related to the article. Feel free to answer them in the comments, or write about them in more depth on your own blog.

  • Do you teach Boolean searching? Why/why not?
  • If you teach Boolean only to some students, or in some circumstances, what is behind the decision to teach or not to teach?
  • Do you think that there are any information retrieval advantages to using Boolean search strategies over natural language? When?
  • Do you think that there are any pedagogical advantages to teaching Boolean search strategies as opposed to natural language? Why/why not?
  • What other search strategies do you teach either alongside or instead or Boolean? Why those?

This particular study (The Boolean is Dead) focused exclusively on the difference between Boolean and natural language searches in a range of databases. Its conclusion was that for first year students most databases return quite relevant results whether or not students use natural language or Boolean search strategies. So I’m going to pose two follow up questions:

  1. What should we be teaching our first year students about finding and accessing relevant information resources?
  2. At what point in a student’s journey might Boolean search strategies become important?

I’m looking forward to hearing your responses! And hopefully some of you that have a bit more band width at the moment (I actually hate that phrase but it seems to be popular!) might be able to share some deeper thoughts on the subject.


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