Proquest is a horrible research tool

After Paper of Record destroyed itself, denying me access to the Sporting News, I’ve had to rely a lot on Proquest which I can access through my local library.

It is, without a doubt, the worst system I’ve ever been forced to use. I remember the bad old days of library systems when you’d have to crazy stuff like
subject:baseball +casey +stengel
hit ‘enter’ and hope for the best. I would love to have one of those systems lately.

If I had to sum it up, I’d say “Proquest doesn’t do what you tell it to and provides radically different results given only slightly different inputs with no feedback as to why.”

Here’s an example. The opening Proquest “Basic Search” page looks like this:

In the search box, operators like “AND” and “OR” don’t work as they’re described in the search tips. More frustrating, it will not return results it obviously has.

The date range doesn’t work at all. Searching within two dates always returns results outside of the range. There’s no message as to why. Did it fail over? Were there no results? No clue.

The “database” dropdown allows me to select the “Proquest Newspaperes” and the New York Times. Once you’ve selected that, the results sometimes improve. If I search for some strings and don’t get any results, narrowing it down to one paper often returns what I’m looking for.

Proquest doesn’t have any of that documented or hint at it. Why would it? “Your comprehensive search failed. Would you like to limit it, search each possibility one at a time, and turn up more results?”

Gosh, that’d be great. Or, better yet, why doesn’t the comprehensive search work like that?

The date limits, I should note, do sometimes work when searching individual sources. Whether or not they’ll work on any given search, even if it’s a source that’s honored date limits in the past, is randomly determined at time of search submission.

Here’s how bad this is: I’ve been using other sources to find references to New York Times articles and then gone to Proquest to search only the NYT only that day for that headline, and my success rate is probably 75%.

As an added bonus, at random times it will throw up a login screen which is impassable. Then I get to start over.

I’d love to use Lexis-Nexis, which I understand is far more difficult to use but 90 times as powerful. Let me at it. Except that it costs (I believe) $900,000 for an indvidual license.

Google, would you please smash these guys and hurry? Researchers everywhere are crying out in pain for a search solution that works. I’ll write you a spec and everything.