Secret gardens of search

A silver tree at a conference was used by delegates to capture their favourite search tips.

You know the usual drill for library conferences. Lots of knowledgeable speakers telling the delegates about the wonderful projects they've done at their libraries, hoping the delegates will take some of these ideas home to create their own wonderful projects in their libraries. During breaks and at lunch, delegates chat among themselves—and at Internet Librarian International those chats can be in many different languages—about what they've learned, how they’re going to make changes when they return home, and why they enjoyed particular talks. Perhaps I'm too idealistic. For all I know, they're discussing shopping or their travel plans.

At Internet Librarian International, there were some interactive activities on offer in the exhibit area that were a far cry from formal presentations. There was a jigsaw puzzle about the landscape of scholarly publishing that delegates collaboratively worked on and completed in time for it to be shown in the session on supporting the research process.

And then there was my favourite—a silver tree in the secret gardens of search with leaves of index cards and post-it notes upon which delegates had written their search tips. The initial tips were contributed by delegates at the WebSearch Academy workshop on the day before the conference started. During the conference other internet librarians dropped by the garden to write down their own search tips. The tree didn't care whether the tips related to searches done on the internet or those on commercial databases and discovery systems.

Leafing through the tips

Here are some of the tips found on the tree. I was fascinated that they didn’t always agree with each other.

  • Image search is your friend
  • Don't forget reverse image searching
  • Don't ignore copyright, particularly for images; owners are using PicScout to identify infringers
  • Be patient; a quick search does not always give the best results
  • Always try a 'quick and dirty' very specific search first. It will give good results surprisingly often
  • Discuss your research strategy with a colleague
  • If at first you don't succeed, think like to content provider and look for clues as to what words they would use
  • Your biggest advantage and disadvantage as a searcher is that you’re human so you can be creative, curious, and illogical
  • Don't fall in love with just one search engine
  • Think laterally with your search terms (car, automobile, vehicle, etc.)
  • Be as specific as you can
  • Present data imaginatively, like Hans Rosling (
  • Ask your client as many questions as possible because the more you know about the topic the better you can do your job
  • Be sceptical and analytical.

Adding to the tree

Just because the conference is now over and the tree has shed its leaves doesn't mean we can forget about search tips. Secret gardens can exist on the web just as well as they can rooted in the exhibit area at Olympia. I'd like to invite you, whether you were at Internet Librarian International or not, to add to the list of tips. Put them in comments to this post or email them to me directly.

Perhaps next year our tree will have even more leaves and a plethora of wonderful tips from our knowledgeable searchers. Join us in the secret gardens!

Marydee Ojala ( is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher and co-chair of the Internet Librarian International conference.