Wednesday, January 14, 2009

and now it's time for the breakdown

The online periodicals catalog at the library is kind of complicated. It has, after all, a lot of information, which is distributed over many different databases, and it takes a while to get used to using it. You can search for a particular database by name, or you can start with a subject area and see what databases are available for that topic, or you can search for a particular journal; there are a lot of ways to approach your search. So tonight I'm working on the Belinda section of my thesis, and I thought, you know, Blackwood said I need more secondary sources, and Belinda is a pretty popular novel*; maybe I'll just take a quick look at recent periodicals and see what scholars have said about Clarence Hervey in the past five years or so. I know my way around the periodicals system pretty well by now, so the task should have been, as PG Wodehouse would say, the work of a moment.


I went through my usual process, but at the end of it, instead of showing me a gazillion results and an advanced search box that would help me narrow them down, it showed me ... nothing. I had landed at a weird page I'd never seen before, which informed me, "You have not performed a search." Which was funny, because I had in fact clicked on the button that said "search," just like I always do. I backed up and tried again, carefully selecting the databases I wanted to search, entering my search term, clicking "search."

"You have not performed a search."

A flurry of frustrated clicking and searching (or not searching, if MetaLib was to be believed) followed. I was starting to think I might be crazy. I'm not computer illiterate, and I'm generally fairly competent at figuring out how user interfaces work, but this one completely defeated me. I finally figured out that I needed to log in to ... something ... and the something was willing to take the username and password I use for my university's network, but even then I felt like I was trying to use the Playskool periodicals catalog. It seemed to think that an "advanced search" meant I wanted to add ONE boolean term to the process. What happened to all the features I actually use?? Where are the options for publication date, refereed sources only, multiple boolean operators, online access, etc.? I can't find them anywhere.

I gave up. The library is closed, so there's no one I can ask for help. I'm going to have to go to campus tomorrow, wander up to the library's information desk like a hapless freshman, and ask someone what the heck I'm doing wrong.

*In academic terms, Belinda is a very popular novel. It just hasn't been on the best-seller list any time in the past 200 years.

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