Recently I saw the documentary Resolved which is about high school public policy debating and specifically two teams of debaters, one from an Illinois suburb and one from inner-city Los Angeles. During the movie I learned that public policy debate between high school students is not at all what I thought it was. For the past several decades it’s been about fast talking – and I mean really fast talking – and rapid information processing more than focusing on gaining a strong understanding of a particular issue. (Part of the movie focuses on the two teens from L.A. trying to change debate from the fast-talking fast-processing style to something more traditional. But, that aspect of the documentary is not the focus of this post.)
Students involved in debate do learn important skills. But, it does seem that what I thought of as debate doesn’t exist anymore. For example, because of the speed at which the debaters speak, most people can’t understood what’s being said. That means that those attending a debate are just the judges and other debaters. (No family members, friends, etc.)
This doesn’t mean that a lot of research doesn’t go into preparing for debates. The teens gather so much information (which is all printed out) that they fill multiple plastic tubs that they cart with them to debate competitions. As a librarian working with teens, I had a certain sense of pleasure thinking about all of those teens using research skills in order to uncover information for the debate.
In one section of the movie one of the debaters talks about the importance of research in preparing for a debate. He talks about how some information can be found on search engines like Google. But then he talks about the importance of using other “search engines” that make it possible to dig deeper into a topic and how without these other search engines he wouldn’t be able to gather information needed in order to be successful in debating. The other search engines he mentioned were Lexis/Nexis, Proquest, and other tools that we commonly in the library world refer to as databases.
This teen talking about databases and searching was something I actually wrote down while watching the movie. I was so struck by this very smart teen talking about research and knowing that there were tools other than Google that he could use, but thinking of them as just another search engine.
Why was this so key to me? Because, I spend a lot of time talking to librarians – public, academic, and school – about what we call these things known as databases in the library world. Do we use the term database? Do we simply refer to them as a way to locate articles? How do we refer to them? The answer seemed so simple when it came from the teen debater in Resolved. To him, they are just search engines – a different type of search engine but still a search engine.
Now I know, some readers will not like this idea of calling Proquest, Ebschost, etc. a search engine. But, think about the teen in the movie. It didn’t hurt his research skills to be lumping the databases with Google and Yahoo. He understood there were differences. But, for his purposes, all of the tools had the same basic purpose, to be able to search the web for information that would meet his needs.
Maybe here and now we should resolve to remove the word databases from our library vocabulary, web site, promotional pieces, etc. and simply call everything a search engine. What do you think? Let the debate begin.