Research tips and smarter Internet searching


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I’ve been a news librarian for a long time and seen the changes in my profession from books and paper clippings files to Internet dependance and data research.

Near perfect representation of me at work

Near perfect representation of me at work

My mission here is to share a few tips and tricks to improve your research skills:

First books and old school reference materials;

The Internet thingy and how to squeeze more out of it;

Commercial databases at the end.


Canadian Context

Internet is great but the web page based network you youngsters are used to is less than 20 years old.

Yes there is current Canadian data on the Internet; and more and more every month and if you are lucky it is free to access but older data can be challenging. it takes time, money, will and mostly money to digitize old records and put them online.
And by older data I mean everything from 1921 census information to the cost of a pound of hamburger in Ottawa in 1944; to who was president of the Bank of Commerce in 1986; or what was Anne Murray’s husbands name or who won the Juno for best song in 1992 or who owned the property my current house sits on 1917 (a Smith – pure coincidence. according to old property records); or what street did Wayne Gretzky grow up on in Brantford.

Reference Books
They provide pieces of information/data in some organized and authoritative way.

They can provide basic information like a definition or succinctly explain a concept; describe and identify people or places.
The books are not meant to be read cover to cover – even too nerdy for me – just consulted for something specific.

Dictionaries     encylopedia

Criss-cross directories. Example my field trip to the LAC to track Russell Williams life through street addresses. Show a book.

Canadian Who’s Who. Yes the current version is on the web, but it cost money. A library will have decades of resource and back in the day they carried more intel.canada_whoswho

Canadian Periodical Index. Print titles ceased publication in late 1990s in favour of a subscription database. But grouping references by subject is a powerful way to research.

specialized encyclopedias. On just about any topic. One distinct advantage over a web based equivalent is AUTHORITY. Explain the concept. Ask them how the verify the accuracy of a website.

Almanacs. Gold mines of trivia and facts. No Canadian title has been published for years. There is no web equivalent in one convenient location.

RIP Canada Year Book published by Statistics Canada.

Canadian Facts and Dates. book I use for editorial calendar items like Gretzky turns 50.

Canadian Facts and Dates

Canadian Facts and Dates

Canada News Facts. 1967-2001. RIP. I still use them every few months. Will never give them up.

Quotation books. Bartlett’s the book is still easier for me to use than but the website does have the full text of the bible and Shakespeare online.

The ultimate quotation book

The ultimate quotation book

The Internet

Even if the data you want is on the Internet, you may not be able to find it. 60 per cent of searches made by people who couldn’t find a result they felt was relevant enough to warrant a click through to the website, according to James Murray in a 2012 blog post. How often do you click into the second or third page of results?

Limitations of search engines

Search engines do not search every corner of the web. They tend to focus on webpages and sometimes struggle with file formats like .pdf and .ppt

The web crawlers are often confined to home or index pages.

They cannot search databases, or pages that launch applications.

Some websites deliberately block the search engines out. Privacy settings

Paywalls only let you in so far. Newspaper and magazine websites

The page may not have good SEO – search engine optimization – so even though it’s brilliant, search engines cannot find it.

sad face

Search engine optimization

This where you try and guess how the search engine ranks pages so you as a creator of web content can use headlines and keywords based on the likelihood of placing higher on the results list. In the news business it’s all about making sure the person’s name or product brand is in the headline so it’s “Harper” instead of “prime minister” and “Toyota” instead of “car”

Don’t judge a website by its’ pretty face

Don’t forget about authority of a website. A government site can be trusted to have quality information. So can a university or well known business. If a site doesn’t have a clear “about us” page that explains who they are and offers contact information that includes an address and telephone number, your spidey senses should tingle.

How do you evaluate the authority of a website? Let’s compare these two sites                          World Fact Book

So much Google
So much Google


Google Advanced. They hide it, too bad

Navigation bar on the left

Google Scholar. There’s an advanced search window if you click the “down” arrow.

Google News and Archives. The archives section, also hard to find.

Friggin awesome post about 20 ways to search Google from a mechanical engineer Gabriel Maestras that was posted to Quora. It’s from 2007, so it’s a tad dated but still awesome.

Not everything on the Internet is free or owned by Google

The web includes lots of databases with the full text of newspapers, magazines and academic going back decades. They cost money. Some sites let you pay as you go with a credit card. Others require you to subscribe and pay a monthly fee.

Examples include:
• (Ottawa Citizen going back to 1985, dozens of Canadian titles going back 15 years or more)
•    Factiva (Globe and Mail going back to 1979; business data)
•    Cedrom SNI/Newscan  (French language news sources)
•    Lexis-Nexis (many, many American papers.)
• (academic articles for miles)

But wait, there’s more.

The Carleton Library likely has all these sources and much more at your fingertips. You can probably link in from home or from your dorm by using your student number. The public library in your town offers the same service, as long as you have a library card.   carleton_logo

Ottawa Public library or your hometown library if you still have a valid library card.

Ottawa Public Library

Quick and dirty guide to



The “new” Merx to monitor government tenders is the Public Works managed website

1. To browse the latest tenders

Go to the last tab on the blue menu “procurement”. Then click on “tenders”


Click on “new today” to see the latest.

2. To search for a department or agency

The website doesn’t actually allow searching by specifc government department …..yet. That feature is coming I’m told.

Click on the “active” box.

Enter your search terms in the box on the upper left of the page. You can use Boolean operators (“and”, “or” “not”) and quotations around phrases.

Example: DND

Shows you the key features of the search results page in

Shows you the key features of the search results page in

3. Saving this search so it automatically updates

Easy as bookmarking this page in the web browser of your choice. It will automatically refresh with new information whenever you visit it.

rss_logoAnother way to save the files is using clicking on the RSS logo at the top of the page.

This will create a web feed into the RSS reader of your choice.

testing how to add video



Okay so the first task is embedding some youtube video.

Here’s a gem from Library and Archives Canada about wool production in Ontario in the early 20th century

The “select from user” option didn’t seem to work. Insert into post button just sat there, limp. Am trying the “from URL” option instead. That works perfectly.

Next task, clipping something from the Parliamentary website and loading it into a blog post.

First thing I have to do is download Microsoft Silverlight to enable ParlVu to work on the Parliamentary website.

Next problem. Trying to get a download. A one hour segment of Question Period going to take 20 minutes to download…….

And once it finally downloads, it’s in .WMV format, a.k.a. Windows Media Viewer and not a Mac friendly format. Sigh.

Download Flip4Mac, watch video.

Some days, you just need things to go smoothly.

Some days, you just need things to go smoothly.

No option to trim in QuickTime.

Open iMovie, which I never used before. Cannot import the file. More sighing.

Rapture. Now I’m downloading yet another program, this one to covert .WMV to iMovie format. This is Aimersoft video converter, which was recommended by this woman, and at this point in the day, one recommendation is all I need.

Yet another download, and covert to iMovie. Not alot of instruction so I thought I was trimming a one minute sample The first part of the trim worked okay. It starts in the correct place but it doesn’t end where it should. I’ve never used iMovie and 1700 on Sunday is NOT the time to figure it out.

Back up plan

I uploaded a video from my phone to my computer, then from my Youtube channel, I uploaded it, tagged it. Here it is. Not a contender for the Palme D’Or but at least I know how to do this.

Another way to monitor changes to web pages


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I confess, I love RSS (r.i.p. Google Reader) so when I got this question: “How can I monitor when a webpage updates, and not with RSS, I hate RSS” I was briefly stumped.

But, once I did some searches on the topic I discovered a few sites appeared on several lists, so I figured, must be good. Go to these links to read up on these and other web tracking tools. Some are browser specific, Firefox and Chrome both has plugins. Play around to find one you like.

Pretty simple.

The home screen of

The home screen of

Sign up with a username and password, select some URLs and wait for the emails to come in.

You can set how frequently you receive update emails.

You can set the app to look for specific words, for additions OR deletion of content.

You can also tell the program to only alert you to significant changes. I received emails alerting that the the Parliamentary website changed the case of the the header “Parliament of Canada” to “PARLIAMENT OF CANADA”.  Not earth-shatteringly useful.

Here's the email from that shows me what changed.

Here’s the email from that shows me what changed.

Here’s another site

Here’s a description of the product. One limitation of the free product is you only get 30 alerts per month.

Setting up a "track" in femtoo.

Setting up a “track” in femtoo.

One difference from is you can have femtoo look just for specific file types, like .pdfs as well as html.

This site loads a page into their viewer and wants you to pick a certain parts of the page to track. Since I want an alert whenever content is added to this page, I selected words that are always included in the updates.

One last example is

Setting up the URL to track was a little confusing on with this app because you enter the URL you want and it defaults to the root address then presents you with a massive grocery list of URLs affiliated with the root. Just pick the one you want and ignore the rest.

I had to go through the process twice to get the recall page because versionista reverted to during the set up process. Bothersome.

I had to go through the process twice to get the recall page because versionista reverted to during the set up process. Bothersome.

And that’s it. If you use a different tool to track website changes please let me know.

Storify – the basics


Storify lets you tell a story using tweets and other social media posts by arranging them in a custom order with a nice visual display and the ability to insert context.


To begin, sign up and get an account. Unless you have  professional page on Facebook, probably best not to link it to your FB account.

British Foreign Office has a Storify page that acts as news summary of activity for the week. Very cool example.

Click on “Create a Story”. Helpful pop up windows explain the next few steps.

Much like blogging software you add a title and lede paragraph, then using the buttons on the right hand menu, you select the social media app, plug in your search terms and do a search.

Then you simply drag and drop the tweets you want into the editing section on the left.

Storify lets you move the tweets around, add text between them and embed a link.

After the the first ‘save’ it does the rest automatically.

You have content, now time to publish. Click the ‘publish’ button. I prefer not to “publicize”. if you select that option it will automatically be posted to any social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) that is linked to your Storify account. I prefer to see what the finished product looks like before I risk letting other people read it.

If you like what it looks like, then you can “distribute” it.


If you app requires the embed code, it’s on this pop-up window. Or, it may be as simple as cutting and pasting the link.

As of August, 2013, (this blog) and Storify don’t play well together, so you cannot display a Storify story in your blog post unless you have a VIP subscription.

What’s Jason Kenney up to – the Storify sample

How about that. The Export to worked after all. Doesn’t show up in the WordPress dashboard so I didn’t know to go looking for it. Now just a quick edit to add text at the top and categories and voila! Two posts about Storify and my guinea pig, Jason Kenny.
This story looks way better in the Storify platform so I think it’s a good idea to direct readers there anyway.

What’s Jason Kenney up to

Trolling social media to see what the minister of employment and social development with responsibility for multiculturalism is up to this long weekend and what social media is saying about him.

  1. Story of Nathan Jacobson, a Money Launderer, a #CPC Fundraiser and Jason Kenney & John Baird BFF… #CDNpoli
  2. Most of the activity concerns the new fees for foreign musicians. People is not happy. Read some background
  3. @JDfromCJAY 100% agree! I’ve sent Jason Kenney a few tweets to keep the heat on and I saw the #music4canada hash tag so I sent it out again
  4. Watch “Jason Kenney slams Suzuki’s anti-immigration remarks” on YouTube –…
  5. This is the only tweet from Mr. Kenney’s account all weekend.
  6. This week marks the 180th anniversary of one of the greatest moments in Parliamentary history, passage of the Slavery Abolition Act.
  7. I’ll be on-air Sept. 1st, 5pm! I’ll reveal the truth behind unnecessary fees introduced by Jason Kenney. Listen to and 99.1fm. #CJAM
  8. If you see Jason Kenney, tell him to get his finger out of the pie.
  9. (That’s, or @kenneyjason. And be civil–this is the gov’t misunderstanding a business model, not attacking art)
  10. An open letter to Jason Kenney about the increase in fees for touring artists:
  11. This is older than this weekend but is a post from Flickr to show how simple it is to add pics from that service too.
  12. 20th Anniv. of NCCC Pacific Region with Ministers Jason Kenney and Alice Wong in #Vancouver – Richard Lee

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Credibility of a news story on Twitter vs a news website.


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Just catching up on my RSS feeds and found this blog post from last week on a study that found a credibility gap if a news story was reported on Twitter vs the same story on a news agency website. This applies even if the same news agency – the New York Times was included in the study – is the source of the story on Twitter.

Frankly, I’m a tad confused by that. After spending a few hours at the airport this afternoon, waiting out lightening delays, I realized how much I rely on Twitter for breaking news, even breaking news as mundane as a storm.

Your thoughts?

Friends of the library


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Not only am I a professional librarian but I’m a “friend” of the library as well.

Credit to: Prlib.lorg

Friends of the library groups have been around for nearly a century. According to Wikipedia, the first such group was founded in Paris in 1913 to advocate for the Bibliotheque Nationale.

In the United States, the first Friends group dates from 1922. A 1961 article on Friends groups that I found using Google Scholar, noted Friends groups flourished in the 1930s and 1940 as the Depression and the Second World War decreased the amount of public funding available to libraries.

Ottawa boasts one of the first friends groups formed in Canada, as the old Friends of the Ottawa Library in 1981. The current organization dates from 2003 following amalgamation of Ottawa, Nepean, Kanata, Orleans, West Carleton, Oz, Avalon and the other dozen communities whose names I cannot remember.

FOPLA is all volunteer based and yes, the volunteers tend to be retired folks who love books. Running second hand bookstores that sell donated books and library discards and operating a few big used book sales contributes nearly $250,000 year to the Ottawa Public Library. Not too shabby.

Out at the Friends group I “manage” (I use the term loosely, they pretty much run themselves), our money has gone towards a camera (for children’s programming), chairs and dry-mounted posters to make the Carp branch a more inviting place.

Friends groups are advocates as well as fundraisers. And they can be a feisty lot.

Last month we received a unique donation, a copy of a 1781 book by the French essayist Voltaire. I did an article for the Friends newsletter on the wonderful find. So go and read it and see a photo of the lovely Carp Book Corner.

Kirsten Smith holding 1781 edition of Voltaire at the Carp Library

Kirsten Smith, Friends of the Library, holding 1781 edition of Voltaire at the Carp Library. Photo credit: Mary Porritt, Ottawa Public Library

Sadly I’m right in the middle of the picture blocking the view, but I’m hold a 231 year old book. Cool!! Here’s a link to just my article in .docx format. Voltaire_fopla

Here’s a link to the entire newsletter, in .pdf format. My article is on page 4. Newsletter_Summer_2012


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