Tag Archives: searches

Search and Maps

Now that we’ve covered the main tools used by the Learning for Life Online program, let’s get to some of the other basic tools of the web.

What Is It?

Search: A search engine is any site that helps you search for other websites based on words you choose. Google, Bing and Yahoo! are the three most popular search engines (right now), but there are many others.

Maps & Directions: One of the most useful resources online, searchable maps provide current information and step-by-step directions from wherever you are to wherever you’d like to get to. They’ll even help you get from the Boston Public Library to Tokyo, Japan, provided you can “kayak across the Pacific Ocean” (steps #26 and #42). Google Maps, Mapquest, Bing Maps, Yahoo! Maps and others are part of the major search engines. Rand McNally and National Geographic are two print publishers who also provide searchable online maps.

How Is It Useful?

Search engines are the only way to find anything on the internet. That might be a slight exaggeration, but it’s mostly true. There are millions upon millions of websites out there, and there is no comprehensive “directory to the internet.” What’s interesting is that each search engine uses a slightly different way to find sites and show results, so if you want to make sure you’ve found everything about a subject that’s online, use as many search engines as you can to go looking.

A paper map is great, but online maps have a few advantages. First, they can be updated much more quickly than published paper maps or even map software on your computer. Second, they can provide street maps, aerial views of buildings and landmarks and street-level views for the same location, to help make finding a place in real life extremely easy. Better still, type in the address (or general location) you’re coming from and where you want to go and you can get turn-by-turn directions on how to get there. You can add multiple locations and create a personalized road trip itinerary.

Try It Out

Using a search engine or a map is as easy as typing into the search bar and clicking Search. Try any of the ones below, and remember to click on buttons to see what happens next, especially on the maps. Search for different combinations of words about the same topic or location and see how the results change. We’ll cover some advanced and specific search techniques in a future Learning for Life Online post.

Google | Google Maps
Bing | Bing Maps
Yahoo! | Yahoo! Maps
AOL | Mapquest

The Social Library Catalog

Learning for Life Online tool #4:
The social Boston Public Library catalog

As more and more people join social networks like Facebook and buy from online retail stores like Amazon, they have come to expect the same kinds of features in all of their online services. Most recently, library catalogs have started to offer useful social features like ratings, comments, sharing, lists and following.

What Is It?

Early in 2011, the Boston Public Library launched its new library catalog. In addition to all the things we expect from a library catalog – good search results, information on where to find items, account information and item renewals – the new catalog offers fantastic interactive features.

How Is It Useful?

Search. The first and best feature of the new catalog is its keyword search and ranked search results, and you don’t need to sign up to use it. Just like Google, this search uses the popularity of items (based on number of copies and number of holds) to give you the most likely results to your search. Searching on “The Help” will take you straight to all the copies of the book; a search for “Harry Potter movies” will get you all of the library’s DVDs of the films, as well as additional items.

Lists. Taking a cue from Amazon, the new catalog makes it extremely easy to create lists and share them online. Anyone can create a list about any topic and include current items in the catalog, items not yet in the catalog (found on Amazon) and related websites. If you have a passion for anything – science, history, painting, carpentry, computers, childcare, baking, health, crafts or travel – you can make a list to help others learn more about it.

Tags. Tags are words and phrases you can add to an item to describe it and make it easier to find. Any user can add tags that describe the genre, tone or theme of a book, movie or album, and any user can search for other items with that tag to find more things to watch, read and listen to.

Sharing. You can share interesting books, movies, CDs and lists straight from the catalog to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and dozens of other sites. Just click on the sharing icons on any item or list to share that information through nearly any social tool you already use. You don’t need to copy and paste anything to share – you do it all right from the catalog.

Following. If you notice that other users often comment with interesting reviews of items or create awesome lists, you can choose to Follow those users just by clicking a button. Don’t worry – it’s nothing creepy. Following just means that you’ll get recommendations for things to read, watch and listen to based on the items that these other users thought were awesome. Better still, the new BPL catalog is linked to other library catalogs across the US and Canada, so you might be following someone from Ottawa, Seattle or New York!

Try It Out

Visit the Boston Public Library catalog and try a few searches. Type keywords into the search bar at the top right corner and see what you get. Use power searches to find very specific things: “Children Chinese DVDs” will show you everything the Boston Public Library owns, not just individual DVD titles. Use the drop-down menu next to the search bar to find Authors, Titles, Subjects, Tags or Lists on topics you’re interested in.

If you have a Boston Public Library card, register with the new catalog by typing in your card number and four-digit PIN. Registering will let you request items to be held for you and allow you to add content like comments and tags, rate items and create lists. Sign up, choose your own username (so you don’t have to type in your library card number any more) and make sure to enter your correct birthdate so you have access to all of the site’s features.

During the Learning for Life Online program, we’ll often create lists of items related to online tools and skills and share them through the blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Use these lists to find all sorts of useful books and sites for living life online.

Help & Resources

Twitter – The Basics

Learning for Life Online tool #3:
The Learning for Life Online Twitter feed

What Is It?

Twitter is the most well-known example of what’s called microblogging – short updates of text, photos, audio or video are pushed out to anyone following your feed on the web, through email, or via their cell phone or PDA. Facebook updates are so short they might be considered the same kind of thing, and serve much the same purpose.

How Is It Useful?

Microblogging lets you quickly update and coordinate with many followers using a single post. For a personal feed, you can let your friends know what you’re up to and share snippets of your life. Companies use Twitter to send out information about their services and products (like Whole Foods) and to offer customer service and advice (Best Buy and Dell, for example).

Searching Twitter can be a great way to find out information and see the buzz about a new restaurant or movie. Just type in the name of the thing you’re looking for into the search bar at the top of the page and away you go. Try a search on a new tech gadget, hot news topic, famous restaurant or summer blockbuster.

You can follow feeds from celebrities, authors, publishers, famous weathermen and even news from the White House. Locally, the Boston Police Department and Boston Fire Department send out alerts and ask for information using Twitter. Boston Food Finds is a feed about all things food in Boston.

Hashtags – words or phrases prefixed with a hash symbol (#) – started as a quick way to link related posts together (try out #womenssoccer). Posters use these to coordinate posts from a large number of Twitter users (for instances, at library conferences) and occasionally as a commentary on their own post. You can search for hashtags in the main search bar to see what is being tagged with that phrase, or you can look at the “Top Trending” topics on the side of the screen.

Try It Out

If you’d like to sign up for a Twitter account, just visit the site, sign up and start posting. Follow anyone you know personally and find a few companies or famous people to follow. Be sure to look for “the official Twitter account of…” in the description to know you’ve got the real deal.

If you don’t want to sign up, start off with a search for the Boston Public Library or a certain kid wizard. Then try searching for anything that strikes your interest.

To get a feel for the possibilities of microblogging, check out a few feeds:

Help & Resources