pimp your search engine

A Google custom search engine can be embedded into your website

A Google custom search engine lets you determine the websites that Google searches.

In a world where just about everything can be customized, don’t forget to customize your web searching. Google offers users the ability to create custom search engines (CSEs), searching only the sites that you specify. So, if you hate the fact that Wikipedia is the top result when you search for ‘information literacy‘, maybe it’s time to do something about it.

Some librarians have already begun creating CSEs. Amalia Monroe at University of Kansas created a custom search for the 2008 Presidential Elections, which she embedded in the library’s resource guide for the elections. David Oldenkamp at Indiana University Libraries has done something similar for searching intergovernmental organizations. Monroe (2008) says that CSEs “meet patrons where they are by allowing them to search the Web in an environment they are most likely comfortable (Google), but at the same time helping them to learn about different, and possibly better, information sources.”

Many corporations, organizations, and individuals are creating CSEs that search their websites, including some of Towson’s own library superstars, Amanda Taylor and Claire Holmes. This provides a quick and easy method for visitors to search your page.

Additonally, you could create a CSE for your own personal use. Do you have a favorite set of websites you visit for reading up on library-related topics, for finding bibliographic information, for learning more about using technologies in the library environment (maybe a blog???)? You can create a custom search to help you with any of these activities and more. (Now if only database vendors would open up access to their databases…)

“How can I do this?”, you ask?

  1. Go to http://www.google.com/coop/cse/
  2. Click the “Create a Custom Search Engine” button
  3. Sign in (yes, you need to have a Google account)
  4. Name your search engine
  5. Describe your search engine
  6. Choose keywords that describe the content of your search engine
  7. Add a list of URLs that you want your CSE to search
  8. Click “Next” (be sure to check the “Do not show ads…” box)
  9. Click “Finish”

A couple tips

  • Make a list of websites before you actually start creating your CSE (maybe use iBreadCrumbs to find and track websites you want to include in your CSE)
  • Don’t worry if the Preview of your search engine doesn’t work in Step 2. It’s never worked for me, but my CSEs still work.
  • You can add or delete websites , and make other changes to your search engine after you create it, using the “manage your existing search engines” link.

To add your CSE to your website, click the “manage your existing search engines” link (login if you aren’t already). Click “homepage” next to the search engine you want to add to your website. Click “Add this search engine to your blog or homepage”. Customize the design (size, border, etc.) and hit “Get the code”. Then, copy & paste the HTML code into your website, subject guide, or blog.

Just in time for the holidays, I’ve created a CSE for holiday information. Try it out!

Monroe, A. (2008). Organizing the 2008 presidential election: the creation of a custom search engine. C&RL News, 69(9), 540-543

Grazr helps you share your RSS feeds!

In the last post Carrie helped us understand what RSS feeds are and how to use Bloglines to read your feeds. Now that you have the basics of RSS feeds down, let’s get creative. Perhaps you have a feed or two that you’d like to share with your library liaison areas or people who are on a committee with you. You could direct them to the blog and tell them how to subscribe or you could use Grazr to create a feed reader like Bloglines directly on your own website!

grazr-image5Grazr’s free account option will allow you to create unlimited single RSS feed widgets to place on your webpage.  If you wish to combine multiple feeds into a widget, you can do this also, but it may cost you.  The free account allows you to create one combined RSS widget, but to be able to have multiple combined RSS widgets, you’ll need to pay anywhere from $9.99  a month to $149.99 a month.  Confused?  Let’s say that you have a liaison web page like the one above, a free account will allow you to stream blog entries from one single blog in any one widget.  You will have to create multiple widgets to stream multiple blogs (and they will not be combined).  If you would like to create a widget with let’s say health news from Medline Plus, along with health news from the CDC, along with articles from a search you conducted in a database, you will only be able to create one of these multi-stream widgets for free (although you could place this same multi-stream widget in multiple places).

Although the free Grazr account does have its limitations in terms of multiple feeds, it can still be a great resource for your liaison pages as well as on any webpage where you’d like to share the latest news, articles or updates from another website, blog or even podcast.  Amanda Taylor, a librarian here at Towson has come up with a great way to share new books in the library using Grazr.  She has created a blog listing all of the new science books as they come into the library.  Grazr allows this blog to be viewed from her different subject pages such as this page: http://pages.towson.edu/amtaylo/biology.html

So I guess you could say that Grazr allows you to be super web 2.0- not only are you able to direct feeds into your feed reader like with Bloglines, but then you are able to push that feed back out on any relevant webpages.

Staying informed without the mess

Keeping up on your reading can be hard, even for a librarian. Don’t despair. There are tools to help.

RSS feeds are a great way to stay informed about what’s being published in your areas of interest. You can subscribe to feeds from your favorite blogs or create feeds for valuable database searches. However, feeding publication alerts into your email may result in their eventual burial. You think you’ll read it later, but the queue grows longer and the article is forgotten.

A feed aggregator, such as Bloglines, serves as a kind of warehouse where you can store literature for later reading. And as a web-based aggregator, Bloglines is accessible from any computer with Internet access.

feed_icon2Want to try? Go to http://www.bloglines.com/, enter your email address, and create a password. That’s it, you’re ready to go. Now all you need to do is keep an eye out for subscription opportunities, often indicated by this orange icon. Here are two examples of how to begin subscribing.

Subscribing to a blog:

  • Click the orange icon
  • Select your feed reader of choice (i.e. Bloglines)
  • Click subscribe now
  • You will be directed to your Bloglines account
  • Create and name a new Bloglines folder
  • Set your display options

Subscribing to a database search:

  • Create the search
  • Click the orange icon
  • Copy the new feed’s URL
  • Go to your Bloglines account
  • Choose to add a new feed
  • Paste the feed URL into the box provided
  • Click subscribe
  • Create and name a new Bloglines folder
  • Set your display options

It’s that easy. Start collecting multiple feeds in one convenient location. You’ll stay informed and your email will be less cluttered.