Tag Archives: searching

Of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax

3 Oct

And the one place, beside “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, where they can all be found.  It’s amazing when you think about what the library brings under its roof (physical or metaphoric).  With all those wonders at our fingertips, and the fingertips of our patrons, do we still need to try to convince communities and people we’re relevant?

This is a hotly debated issue right now, with most librarians firmly in the mindset of “convince or die”.  The fear is that without our advocacy, the library will be overlooked and forgotten, a relic of ages past, tossed aside in favor of Google.  Unspoken in that fear is the belief that, at its heart, libraries are books.  At the very least, that librarians must be stewards of and gatekeepers to information.  This is a bad core belief.

It served us well for centuries, from incunabula all the way to Hemingway.  Today, we need to rethink ourselves and what I believe the inevitable conclusion to the rethought is: we are not gatekeepers, stewards, or any other previous metaphor.  Literally, we are information managers, and we need to start acting like it.  This means being proactive with the organization of information online, looking at semantic web and clouded data, allowing users far more access to tagging and organizing than we’d like.  We aren’t the be-all, end-all on usability.  We need to beef up our metadata, and work with search engines like Google (who is not our enemy) in order to bring library holdings to Google results as well as Google Scholar.

It’s not about convincing people we’re still relevant.  It’s about being relevant, still.

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Google

15 Jan

What a loaded word: “Google”.  It’s transcended from a noun to a verb, and has gone from mediocre search engine to internet superpower.  Yet Google is regarded by many information professionals as similar to wikis – decent enough for quick search but useless at worst and suspect at best for any real information need.  Its efforts are constantly publicized, criticized and examined for meaning.  Because of my unique position, being both an information professional and someone who grew up with Google, I feel compelled to state my feelings for it and its resources.

I think most people of my generation can remember when we went to search engines other than Google.  Altavista, Dogpile, Lycos…Google wasn’t the best out there and we knew it.  Google is now much more reliable, but the ante for other search engines like AlltheWeb or MetaCrawler is upped as well; more and more people are finding what they need from search engines because we’re becoming smarter searchers.  The older generations of librarians tend to be suspicious of Google, no matter what form it takes, and we turn to it for ready reference faster than it takes for a patron to roll their eyes.  I like Google for searching, and here’s why:

  • Google Scholar.  This is an awesome tool for getting a quick view of the scholarly literature surrounding a subject, and since it’s Google, it’s not restricted to one library’s OPAC.  Add in that it will help you find copies of what your results are, and it’s a worthy tool for introductory courses in college.  NB: Use other sources as well.  Seriously.
  • Google has resources that pretty much any other entity doesn’t.  Google is dangerously close to becoming its own “sovereign information nation” due to its ownership of the method of communication for governments, universities and individuals.  That translates to lots of dollar signs, enabling them to accomplish spectacular feats.  For more on that, look into Google books and their digitization efforts.  (I may do a post about that in the future, but for now I’ll just say that their efforts are expensive, extensive, and problematic on some levels.)
  • Google gives a face to searching.  If it helps foster a sense of independence in less-savvy users, then it has a benefit regardless of how the patron uses it.
  • Google’s interface is relatively easy to operate, even in the advanced search mode.  It doesn’t operate with standard Boolean if you type into the search box, but you can exclude based on Boolean operators and it’s easy to understand.
  • Google allows for searching within less traditional sources, like blogs.  Not all blogs are worth their words, research-wise, but there are blogs written by knowledgeable and respected people in their industries, and often the topics are more current than published articles.  Because blogs aren’t required to have the strident standards of a journal, you’re likely to get information faster by people who are capable of publishing – this reason is admittedly for more advanced users who understand how to screen their sources, but it’s valid.

So there you have it.  Google makes me happy, if not completely fulfilled, professionally.  Don’t scorn Google, one day it will own your email.