18 October 2007

The Sweet Smell of Information

The Library has open dictionaries located all over the place. So the other day, Janet, my boss, noticed the world "information scent" as she was walking by a dictionary. Information what?

Yes, you read it correctly...information scent. Definition: visual or textual cues provided on a web site to suggest what information it or its links many contain; the perceived usefulness of a page based on such information.

Okay. So what does that look like? Sorry...or smell like?

I can't help but think of my dog's nose to the ground.

But seriously, what kinds of cues might put us on the right scent towards the information we need? Let's consider perhaps the most popular of websites: Google. The blank search box certainly provides me with a cue that says "I can find anything. No restrictions. No instructions. Seek and I will find." The blank page is also a cue. To me, it says, "it's that simple".

Pretty fragrant, no?

But would I really get that from the website if I didn't already know what it does? How many times have you gone to a website and looked at it blankly. What am I supposed to do here?

I think the visual of the nose to the ground is pretty profound actually, especially for those that are not well versed in websites or are building information literacy skills. What catches your attention on a site to indicate to your purpose, next step, or the information that you are after. I think it would be a good metaphor to try in the classroom. Students would have that visual or that sense to latch on to. It's also quirky, weird, different. I think for them, unlibrarianly (if only they knew).

But staying with the scent, let's try Wikipedia. What is most interesting in this example is that Wikipedia is not encouraging searching, per se. They search box is off to the far right, buried under a bunch of stuff (you know information about the site). It seems like Wikipedia's site puts you on the scent of deepening your search. With all the links visible within a single paragraph, you have to click on something. You just "have" to. There is nothing to do there but read and click. Read and click.

Just then, right at that moment, I saw Wikipedia in a new light.

Did information ever smell so sweet?

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