Monday, January 18, 2010

An Online Library For Local Needs

by Annie Murphy

Librarians are amazing. In schools and corporations, in small towns and big cities, and even on ships, they help patrons from school children to senate aides find information they need. Need stock quotes? Drug side-effects? The population of the Czech Republic? These information experts know the quickest and most reliable route to get you the answers.

But how about helping people find a plumber? Dentist? Cuban restaurant? Where do you look? The Yellow Pages? Good idea, but what if you don't have one of those 1,300 page books handy? And what if you want a caterer in Indianapolis but you're in El Paso? Why, of course, head to the Internet! Want to see your choice of hairdresser or handyman before you meet them? Head to YouTube!

People need all kinds of information and a big part of a librarian's job is organization and indexing. That is my duty as a copywriter/SEO Analyst at AT&T Interactive. I am part of a team that watches promotional videos for businesses (mostly local, but some nationwide), writes engaging copy for the ad, and then formulates keyword search terms so that someone wondering, "Where can I get a decent tattoo in Kansas City?" can not only find a vendor to meet their needs, but also watch its promotional video on YouTube, putting a human face on the business. Results can be pulled up via an organic search (i.e., a search using natural language from the search engine of your choice) or also found more directly on YouTube's

I helped develop a database, an online information center, by creating the copy, the keywords and then entering them into an interface. Simply put, I categorize videos according to their content. Now as any indexer (or anyone who has taken LIBR 247) will tell you, conceptual analysis can be tricky. A seemingly straightforward plumber promo can also meet the needs for home improvements and new construction needs. Dentists can whiten and straighten your teeth, but may also treat sleep disorders. Pawn shops pay top cash for jewelry but also offer great buys on guitars and tools. It's important to include terms which will aggregate similar businesses while including keywords for distinction and precision. It's also just as important to know what not to include. For example, an auto dealer with an espresso kiosk is not a coffee house, credit counseling firms are not bankruptcy attorneys, and vocational programs are not universities.

My former supervisor, Asif Ahmed, the creator of the project, gave me expert advice on how to write descriptions and search terms, words which may help anyone else indexing or cataloguing any kind of collection. Descriptions should arouse searcher's interest, but never replace the product (i.e., don't tell every aspect of the video, book, etc.). Keywords should point people toward information they seek and gather helpful sources, in my case videos for businesses that may meet a user's needs. It must be noted, of course, that searchers may get results that aren't helpful; however, they should never feel deliberately misled. The broad term "green cleaning" will retrieve videos for janitorial services, auto detailers and dog groomers who use natural products. You might only want your car washed, but you'll understand why you pulled up the other videos. The same scenario could happen for the public library patron who, looking for traits in chemotherapy patients, pulls up results for astrological books dealing with those born under the sign of Cancer.

On the other hand, it's necessary to include terms that improve precision. Hungry for barbecue? Texas style? Korean barbecue? Need an attorney for a divorce or DUI defense? With online searching, people want something NOW, and for those able to specify their needs, qualifying keywords and terms shorten the search. The same holds for lawyers looking for articles in law libraries and students looking for data for term papers.

What does it take to perform well on this job? Like anyone working in the information field, it helps to keep up on the lingo that people are currently using. "Plumbers" is still a viable term (and the one that I use), but many folks now look for "plumbing contractors," so our videos receive both tags. This is the same for automobile technicians and mechanics, pest control and exterminators, window treatments and blinds. Moreover, as any reputable librarian will tell you, it's wise to keep abreast of your patron's needs. Green, environmentally friendly, and eco-friendly are all hot terms today, and energy efficient is popular with anybody doing home improvement projects.

It also pays to know your retrieval system as well as your collection. I am fortunate to have a smart and savvy coworker, Andrew Kinh, who is a whiz at explaining certain aspects of the database. This knowledge has proven invaluable to me. Working closely together, we make search terms consistent to make our vocabulary more uniform and efficient. We also discuss trends and exchange ideas which helps make copy writing easier. (I genuinely enjoy watching people promote their businesses, but it can be hard to be fresh on the 18th dentist video of the day.)

Basically the point of indexing these videos is to create a searchable, coherent collection and help searchers find answers to their needs quickly. I help the entire online community– home owners, church goers, people with friends in jail – find the services they need – funeral homes, hookah lounges, bail bond agents. Although my workplace is not lined with books (and it's anything but quiet), the first rule of the American Library Association's Bill of Rights states: " . . . library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community. . .". In that way, I am a true librarian.

Annie Murphy will finish her MLIS studies this coming year but is nowhere near finished seeking answers.

No comments:

Post a Comment