Is a Search Engine Necessary [to MedArt]?


Is a Search Engine Necessary [to MedArt]?

A major trend that the Sustaining MedArt research team found in the interviews taken in Kalamazoo on the usability of the site was the assumption that a search engine would be useful or is necessary; many of the interviewees noted that it would be easier to navigate MedArt if there was a search bar or some kind of search function on the site. This trend made for an interesting inquiry on users' experiences with search engines. 

One of the articles that I read, “Private Power, Public Interest: An examination of search engine accountability,” discusses information as a “critical commodity” of our modern society and search engines as shaping the internet user’s experience by emerging as “managers of information, organizing and categorizing content in a coherent, accessible manner” (Laidlaw 2008, 113). This was an interesting point that the article made, and I started to think about our trend in relation to this claim. Many of the interviewees would try to navigate through the site, and almost every single one of them would be able to navigate in order to find “Canterbury Cathedral” as we asked them to. This task was marked as “extremely easy” by most of the participants, even though some of them said it would make it easier if there was a search function on the site. This phenomenon in itself may support Laidlaw’s argument that search engines have made an impact on how internet users experience the web and how they expect to find information that they need. If they have to find information in an unexpected way, they yearn to have the ease of that search bar or search engine. In MedArt’s case, the unexpected way to find information was to follow a path by clicking the correct alphabetical symbols and finding information by manually “searching” a list of possible choices with your eyes and withyour own stored background knowledge about the information being sought.  

Laidlaw argues that search engines owe a public interest duty because they control our informational experience (Laidlaw 2008, 123). She relays to us that, “[b]y controlling the structure of how information is accessed, search engines control the information flow. Without more, this might not be as consequential, however, search engines are now the portals through which the information on the Internet is experienced. They are seen as authoritative and reliable, and shape public opinion and meaning.” Similar to the subject headings that the Library of Congress creates to categorize world knowledge in a way that definitely shapes our ideas of how the world’s knowledge should be structured, Laidlaw argues that search engines do much of the same thing. She does discuss, however, the difficulties surrounding imposing a public interest duty on search engines. One of the most pressing difficulties is search engines staying neutral and organizing information in an unbiased fashion (Laidlaw 2008, 126-128).

Overall, this trend of assuming that a search engine or search bar would be useful or is necessary is one that should and will definitely be explored more in depth. One of the starting questions for the Sustaining MedArt team could be, "is a search engine neccessary to have on the MedArt website?" 

I know that I have barely even scratched the surface here. All that I mean this to be is food for thought until the Sustaining MedArt team takes the research further with some of the trends found in the interviews.  


Laidlaw, Emily B. 2008. "Private Power, Public Interest: An examination of search engine accountability." International Journal of Law and Information Technology 17 (1): 113-45.


On a more personal note:

As my time at the VMW working on the bibliography for Sustaining MedArt and transcribing/coding interviews comes to an end, it is important that I reflect on the work I’ve done this semester and how it has made an impact on my experience and notion of research.  I’ve learned more specifically about some big concepts, like grounded theory, and a little bit about coding interviews. I’ve learned that it is entirely possible to construct a bibliography of resources on a project and on topics that I was not very familiar with when starting out. As someone who just took on a position as a Visiting Fine Arts Librarian in the Frick Fine Arts Library, this gives me hope for my future “search-and-seize” efforts (as one of my library school instructors called the practice of retrieving information). My work here has definitely had an impact on my experience and notion of research, in that it has exposed me to different ways of approaching research (using grounded theory) that makes a lot of sense to me and has the ability to be very rewarding in unexpected ways because of the nature of that approach. Overall, being exposed through this work to some of the approaches that I was unfamiliar with before has been very rewarding.



  • Sustaining MedArt
  • Graduate Work
  • VMW