Monday, August 13, 2012

Teaching tools.

Syncro Gears (thank you, Steve) and rough files

Rough files:
forgotten in a box; 
evicted from the toolbox because they didn’t seem useful. 
Saved by a thoughtful friend, who knew someday I would let the tools teach me. Thank you, Jan, for saving the files and for returning them just in time. You knew there would be a teachable moment in my future.

Sometimes, our tools teach us. These rough files taught me about the precision and beauty of brass: its machine-ability and tenacity.  What it takes to move it, and refine it. As hard-working tools, they made easy work of shaping and refining brass syncro gears. No amount of work with finer files could have shaped the metal. Yet I had earlier discarded the rough files, not realizing their potential, not investigating their strength.

This week, a favorite research tool also came into a renewed status. Although I hadn't discarded it, I had neglected it, but discovered a wonderful surprise of added value.

The research tool is WorldCat, and the new status is the added value in the Advanced Search. To set the stage: The default screen for WorldCat - "Regular" WorldCat- allows you to search for books if you know the exact title or exact author.  You can search "regular" WorldCat and find out what libraries near you have a copy of your desired title (which is really useful if you see an interesting title in an article or bibliography, or hear a cool book mentioned on NPR). 

"Regular" WorldCat requires exactness: knowing the exact title (with all of the words in the correct order). What if you know some of the words? Or part of the author’s name? Or maybe just a subject area and a keyword or two? That's when the added value kicks in. Using WorldCat’s Advanced Search removes the necessity to be exact. Now, rather than exactness, the search boxes allow you to browse, wander and discover. You could find books with Ancient Rome in the title, and food in the keyword section. Or type in the keywords "quantum physics" and limit the audience to juvenile. Would you believe there are ten results?

Discovering the Advanced Search for WorldCat opened a whole new spectrum of searching: browsing. I had been a zealous advocate of its usefulness, but using only "regular" searching had limited the usefulness of the tool. A thorough exploration of its interface revealed the coveted Advanced Search feature and more. Searching through the website was like rediscovering a treasure; it heightened my understanding of the potential of the tool and gave me a new appreciation of its application. Tools help us make sense of our world and give us a sense of power; through the acquisition of new skills and information. 

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