I have always had trouble grasping the concept of Boolean logic – the use of the words “and”, “not”, “or”, along with +, -, and <>, when searching online. Since I use Google when I want to find information quickly, I am glad to see an evolution over the past few years towards the acceptance of natural language in searches and away from the need for Boolean operators. In fact, Google has progressed so far that it, “seems to know what I want”, as my 21 year-old son put it. As much as I like Google, there are times when I need to search for more specialized information or materials that can only be accessed through a database. While databases are inching towards becoming more Google-like in their search experience, many have not yet arrived.
To get over my Boolean hurdle, I set out to learn to think like a librarian. These talented men and women appear to grasp the world of database searching and have mastered how to arrange words to provide the most useful results. As I began reading in this field, at times I felt like I was reading a foreign language, encountering words and phrases such as trawl, query structure, interface, proximity operators, truncations, wildcards, and limiters.
If I struggle, just think what it’s like for children who may be looking for information on a school library database such as Destiny, Kids Infobits, or National Geographic Kids.
I recently found the tool Boolify, through the kids search engine KidzSearch. Boolify uses a drop and drag interface to let a user construct a search (that’s query structure for newbies). A search begins by dragging the green box to the search space and typing in a word or phrase. Then the search can be refined by dragging over refinement blocks, like “and” or “not” to narrow down the search. With more practice, a user might like to further refine a search by dragging over a site filter (i.e., .edu, .org) or file filter (i.e., .pdf). The color-coded boxes for refining the search help to keep ideas separated.
Once a search string has been created, click on the view button and the search is converted into a text-only version (called the command line), so the user can begin to learn how to create the query without using Boolify.
Although Boolify was created for children, it’s also a helpful tool for adults (like me) who need a little extra support. The action of dragging the box gives the feeling of actively constructing a search, thus making the process more concrete for inexperienced learners, plus KidzSearch utilizes Google’s Safe Search strict mode, filtering out inappropriate adult content.
Give Boolify a try if you are looking for a safe and easy way to search for information on the Internet.