One of the challenges faced by search managers is trying to demonstrate that search is not intuitive and that training is important. Now at last there is research to support the case for training. The concept of information scaffolding is that scaffolding refers to the assistance offered to students that enables them to successfully complete a task. In terms of information search skills acquisition, studies of how experts search are one means of identifying the sequence of knowledge and skills that need to be acquired in order to progress towards expertise in searching. In a paper in the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science the outcomes are presented of a study in which a group of graduate students were mentored by an experienced information professional in searching a range of academic research resources, which might well resemble an enterprise search environment.
The graduate students were asked to rate their level of confidence and knowledge in using various elements of the search applications. There were 22 of these, ranging from a knowledge of the scope of the repositories to the value of proximity searching. This number alone may come as a surprise to people who think that all you have to do is type a query into Google. Over a set of five sessions with the mentor there was a significant improvement in almost all aspects of search skills. It is important to remember that these were graduate students, who will already have used various search applications (such as library catalogues) in their undergraduate work.
Now this is a very small-scale study but as far as I am aware it is the first of its type. If you work in an organisation with a manager that thinks that training in search skills is irrelevant and a waste of time it might well be worth putting Table 4 in front of them (it shows the improvement in skill levels) and asking them to defend their position. Or send them a memo headed “The Benefits of Information Scaffolding”. That should catch their attention!
As Chair of Enterprise Search Europe 2015 I should of course end by reminding you that registration is now open. See you in London on 20/21 October and be part of an information scaffolding experience.