Many librarians learned how to search for electronic information on the Dialog system. We learned commands, tricks, and short cuts. We memorized details about specific databases and consulted documentation to double-check details so that we didn't spend extra time or money online. We spoke in phrases peppered with file numbers and field names. We shared stories of commands (or searches) gone wrong and the charges that they caused. And we smiled.
In talking to someone from ProQuest today, I used the phrase "under the hood." She immediately thought I was referring to a 2001 article by Carol Tenopir entitled "Why I still teach Dialog" (Library Journal, 126(8), 35-36), which is available through ProQuest. In it, Tenopir writes:
For new students in an LIS program, DialogClassic helps them understand the workings of the systems they will be searching, teaching, or designing.This is true. It is also true that teaching someone to search Dialog's old command line interface takes patience. The learner must be willing to try and fail, and learn from those failures as well as the successes. It is also true that most - if not all - of our searching these days is not done with a command prompt, but through some Google-like interface or an advanced search screen. It is difficult to teach students something that they will not use after the class is over. Face it, no one is going to run home and search using a command prompt just for fun!
However, I believe that understanding the old ways helps you understand how we do things now. All of us that used Dialog in the old days have a knowledge about the system that our younger counterparts will never have. Although hard to quantify, I would argue that there is value to that knowledge.
The Power of Full-Text
I remember when full-text records came to Dialog and the power that came with it. I no longer had to use a document delivery service to obtain the full-text. Not only was that a cost saving, it also meant I could get the full-text to my client faster. Initially the full-text was not searchable. When it became searchable, it was revolutionary! Now we take full-text searching for granted. And instead of have full-text that is in ASCII, we have full-text that is presented in PDFs with graphics, etc., intact. The addition of full-text has been due to re-typing, scanning, and other methods. Some of it has come with added errors. All of it has been appreciated.
By the way, could we look at those companies that produced the Dialog databases as being early pioneers in digitization? Yes, I think so.
First Dialog, then Google
We can also argue that Dialog paved the way for many services, including Google. I remember working with programmers on DR-LINK, a product of TextWise, and calling upon my Dialog knowledge in helping them make sense of the files that had to be turned into coherent databases. The command level search had taught me much about file structures and expectations. I'm sure that others that have built services have had the same revelations not from using fancy interfaces, but from "getting their hands dirty" at the command prompt.
I wonder if ProQuest will throw a virtual event when DialogClassic is finally turned off? Or perhaps some of us "old Dialog searchers" will just find a way to gather, light candles, and tell stories of a great system that began it all...