Which Boolean Search are you? Operator as Mantra

By Katie Blake
previously published 4/16/14

Which Boolean Search are you? Operator as Mantra

katieblake2013Remember your delight when you really dug into how we search for information? Boolean terms are relevatory in providing tidy parameters for search patterns. They are so often applied in our everyday, we Information Professionals might forget to savor them. Let’s review:


Think again for a moment about what each mean when applied in a search or decision-making. While we’re on the job hunt, without these being used, your search term “Library jobs” (notice my fancy use of quotation marks?) you might come up with too many results, and maybe you should. During early job hunting, I actually think this is a good exercise because it opens you up to the variety of jobs where some form of recognized library is an aspect of that profession. It is exciting to realize how many kinds of libraries are employed out there! Hopefully too, you already noticed that the theories taught in your masters were meant to be applied in any situation involving information creation, organization and retrieval; so why not think about shining bright with those skills in any job that interests you? If looking weren’t fun chances are you wouldn’t be in this field in the first place so go for it, make an alert for that company or library that makes you giddy.


If you’ve already decided you need to narrow things down but only a little bit, let ‘or’ be your mantra. This, the most expansive of operators indicates you are still open to possibilities. It just means that now, after you have done some digging you think there are particular jobs you have identified as ones-to- watch. ‘Or’ says that substitutions have value and you are not settling. It means you are gearing your cover letters and resumes towards these desired jobs but maybe aren’t ready to eliminate skills and experiences that will read as general or inapplicable because employers might be ‘or’ people too and see those as transferable.


Once you’ve been at it for awhile, job hunting and the application process can prove to be time consuming. It might be time to whip things into shape with ‘and’. This says you are being more judicious about choosing job titles to apply within. Using ‘and’ as your mantra says you are still going to keep your eyes open for but now you are focusing on some specifics. It means your application materials are directed to those chosen positions, clearly pointing the search committee towards key experiences which will turn them on to what makes you a strong candidate. As an ‘and’ person, to the employer your application should show them the reasons you are excited about this particular job, in this institution as well as how your background and interests make you capable of a lot more given an opportunity.


Most of us have heard ‘never say can’t’, suggesting that negative words mean there is an absence of the possible and we should go out of our way to think of what can be. Our mentors and peers want us to be positive in the face of adversity. ‘Not’ initially might seem like saying ‘can’t’ but with Boolean operators as your mantra this lovely little connection means you are focused and driven. For the job hunt you maybe have gotten to the point where submitting ‘just in case’ is no longer something you want to spend your hard earned time on. It says you know something about the job and you don’t want to waste any search committee’s time by submitting what for them would be deemed an arbitrary application. It says you have value for particular reasons, you have built your materials to showcase those big ticket experiences which they are looking for; and it probably means you’ve done the difficult task of editing your resume down to really the pertinent items. Yes, ‘not’ is elegant in its decisiveness. It values known item searches and as a mantra it says you have a clear vision.

Think carefully about how you are conducting your hunt and start to let your mantra shine through. Boolean operators in the library and information world are one example of a simple yet incredibly useful tool which function to not only tie us to our field but act as a mantra for how to approach the hunt, our application materials and how we respond to the Nos and someday, the YES.

Further Reading:
There are many tutorials on using these Boolean gems from libraries everywhere such as Bowling Green State University’s Library Basics: “Guides to getting started at University Libraries. Search tips, source evaluation and more.” June 4, 2013. http://libguides.bgsu.edu/content.php?pid=20573&sid=145033 . Many of these guides helpfully include images for patrons to understand how their choice affects their outcomes, but my favorite so far is the video tutorial by Emily Wixon and Lexy Spry, Chemistry Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2008, “Boolean Operators” http://youtu.be/xsSZps3NH-M ). These ladies put them into the context of everyday life and really make it easy for searchers to understand how often we use these operators.

Katie recently graduated with a masters in Art History from Pratt Institute. She is a Library and Information Science graduate from the University of Washington’s iSchool as well. She has worked in many states across the country for libraries, teaching, in the film industry, office job amazingness and was even once outfitted as Miffy for Nickelodeon during a Kid’s Choice party. Having just completed her thesis, Katie is currently living and making art in her hometown of Anchorage, Alaska.


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