DonnaM » Blog Archive » Frustrated by library search

Frustrated by library search

I don’t think there is a group of systems that I hate working with more than library search systems and journal databases. These are the only systems where I know that my frustration levels will reach the point where I start to go cold, grind my teeth and get an almighty headache. No, I’m not exaggerating – this is truly how they make me feel.

So tonight was no exception. Starting on my university library site, looking for journals that have the word ‘ergonomic’ within the title. Sounds like a sensible search, but no, I can only search for titles starting with ‘ergonomic’. That’s not useful – I don’t yet know what journals are relevant, so I don’t know the beginnings of the titles. So I searched by keyword and subject, to no avail. What frustrated me most was that I knew that there was a journal called ‘applied ergonomics’ available and it wasn’t coming up in any of my searches. I suspect that anyone else would have believed the results and that there were no relevant journals. I spent most of an hour going around in circles trying to figure out how to get a result that I knew existed, and in the end nothing worked.

So I went to search in a journal database that looked promising. The nice system put a cryptic string into the search box. Lucky I’m a clever IA and knew what “jn ‘Ergonomics’ and ft y” meant. But I’m not library-geek enough to remember all of the field codes to continue this search, and had to go hunting – help didn’t, but I persisted and found an advanced search with the list of field codes, in a very nice pop-up window (yes, this was a good thing). The nice system didn’t carry my cryptic string around, so I had to carry it around on the clipboard – but I’m a geek and know these things.

I found a couple of interesting articles. Clicked the little ‘add all’ button next to them & was whisked off to a very nice list of my marked articles, with options to continue searching. Yay! Something went well.

Maybe I was getting a bit overconfident. On the next database, I could easily search within the journal, and found a bunch of useful articles. I ticked the ‘mark’ box next to them and went looking for some way to save my marks (I have previously lost hours of research by not clicking some magic button). No button. So has it marked them or not? – there was nothing in the interface showing that the marked articles were saved anywhere, and no way to go and look at my marked list. It turned out (I think) that they are saved when I left the page – something that I thought was impossible (or someone is telling me stories).

From there it just got worse. Databases with confusing ugly search interfaces, poor communication (can I get full text of this article?), little to no feedback, no suggestions on what to do next. Interfaces that contained almost nothing but jargon.

So 3 hours later and my head is pounding and I’m immensely cross. This just should not happen. Other people in my class spent much more time researching and came up with nothing. It’s not their fault – they aren’t trained in information retrieval, they are university students who want to grab a few articles for an assignment. Someone, somewhere (actually lots of someones) need to start thinking about who is using these systems, what their existing skills are and what they need to achieve. Including ‘basic’ and ‘advanced’ options are not enough.

5 Responses to “Frustrated by library search”

  1. Alexander Says:

    Whoa, I feel your pain. Don’t know why you think this is specific to libraries though; I find this all the time everywhere. Maybe it is because you at least expect information professionals to have done things better than the rest, and on that I fully agree.

    oooh, and I tried this;

  2. donna maurer Says:

    OK, maybe I have strange expectations, but when I search for ‘ergonomic’ I get 7 results, all with titles starting with ergonomic. When I search for ‘applied ergonomic’ I get the entry for that journal. Now, as far as I’m concerned, a search for ‘ergonomic’ should bring up titles with ‘ergonomic’ anywhere in the title. Am I completely missing the point?

    So how would I find out what journals have ‘ergonomic’ in their title?

  3. donna maurer Says:

    Sorry, I should have first said thank you to Alex ;)

  4. Matt Says:


    Try going to:

    Then type ‘ergonomics’ in the Find box, then select in: ‘Title’, then Limit to: ‘Journals & Newspapers’…..then Search.

    This should return 19 results, each containing ‘ergonomics’ somewhere in the title.

    I agree that there are many issues with searches, not just on library search sites! :-)


  5. donna maurer Says:

    Well who would have thought it – I would have been sure that I did this, amongst my many fruitless searches…