Advanced Search

I worked with someone once (he may have been a librarian) who met his wife online. He raved about online dating, comparing it, candidly, to conducting a search in any other database. In some ways he’s right — just as you might want an article on a certain topic, written in a certain year, published by a certain journal, and written by a certain author, so you can specify different characteristics when you search an online dating site. Interestingly, a site like actually has more fields to search than, say, the English Short Title Catalog, or even PubMed. On an online dating site, I can specifically say that I don’t want anyone who eats fast food. I can say I only want a man who works in a secretarial/administrative position AND is at least 6’2″ with hazel eyes. Or only a man who likes but does not have gerbils. Because you know what they say about a man who likes but doesn’t have gerbils.

Switching gears a bit…

Increasingly, libraries are able to subscribe to full-text databases (like the two free databases I’ve linked to above, only quite expensive, and often much more robust), and many of them are moving their bound periodicals to storage to make room for things like more modern furniture (to replace the classic Eero Aarnio furniture — why, I cannot fathom) and coffee carts. Some scholars (like scientists, who tend to want only the most current research anyway) say, “meh” to this, who cares, bring on the coffee. Others (like many in the humanities) are outraged. Why? I think it’s part the look-and-feel, the experience of pulling a weighty volume of old journals down from the shelf. But I think it’s mostly the value of browsing, the “stumble-upon” nature of their research.

Ahh, the “stumble-upon” nature of research. Sure, we mostly start out with something in mind, but there, just a few inches down from the book on art and morals (N6490.Y68), a title catches our eye, and we end up going home with Everything That Rises (N6490.W37), which is about art and politics and so much more. It sure didn’t come up in our catalog search, but it’s exactly what we were looking for didn’t know we were looking for.

Back to dating… This is how the dating sites fail humanity: Not one of us can be reduced to our age/shape/political views/educational background. We can’t even be reduced to our diet/exercise habits/intention to have children. I might think I want someone no older than 32, no younger than 26, but really — it’s arbitrary, just a way to narrow down the search so that it’s manageable. I may think I want someone who is, at the very least, quite liberal, or who has a college degree. What I really want is someone who is a good, good person, through and through, who listens well and shares his thoughts, and values his friends and family. There aren’t categories for this. doesn’t ever ask, “On a scale of one to ten, how well do you empathize with others?” or anything of the sort. Instead, they allow us to rule out (with frightening ease) anyone who does or does not have specific, often arbitrary qualities, without hearing the long and short of why someone is of a certain religion or political view or eats a certain way or doesn’t like gerbils or is divorced or only has a high school diploma, etc., etc., etc. I’m willing to wager that if we met these people (who we select to date or select not to date) at a friend’s barbecue, the outcome would be different, more often than not, in terms of whether or not we thought we’d be a good “match.” Are people categorizable? Yeah, pretty much. But dating sites aren’t good categorizers.

Sort of related: I cataloged this artwork today for a ceramics instructor. (I very nearly command you to look at the link, it’s just that good). The artist, Jeanne Quinn says, in her text about the work:

I have long been fascinated by the mirror image. If one makes a thing, even a bad thing, it becomes legitimized and beautified by joining another thing exactly like it. While symmetry is a simple design solution, I am also interested in it as a metaphor. In using reflectivity, I speak of the possibility of finding the opposite who is also the same. The mirror image makes visible the other side, necessarily acknowledging the other.

And I think that’s lovely. And a good lesson for any of us who are adept at database searching: Sometimes the opposite of what we think we seek is just the right thing.


1 Comment

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One response to “Advanced Search

  1. Yay, post! ‘Twas good.

    Categories allow the few to tell the many how to find things. They are fantastic for organizing nouns of all sorts. But I think you can just look to the changes in the DSM (from 20 to 297 separate diagnoses) to see how difficult it is to categorize personality.

    Have fun being a bridesmaid.

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