Google, Google, Google

Joining in the discussion about Google and Libraries at Madisonian.net.

Here’s the text of my comment. To summarize, I like Google, I like libraries, I use them both, and they’re not mutually exclusive. I think people should be very wary of the idea that Google is a replacement for libraries instead of another avenue to use in information seeking.

Again- I’m not a librarian, but I am pro-librarian. To answer your last question, I don’t think so.

I don’t believe that you need to stop Google to save librarians, because I don’t believe that Google serves as a replacement for libraries. I believe that even if all information in the world was available digitally, there would still be a place for librarians. I’m not anti-Google, either- I use Google constantly. I also use libraries, though. ^_^ In my day to day activities, I use Google more than the library. Really, it depends on what I’m doing.

I don’t think that the pro-librarians crowd is quite as elitist? as your anecdotal evidence would indicate. I certainly don’t believe, nor know any librarians who belive, that librarians are the sole gatekeepers or intermediaries of information. Librarians opened the stacks. I do believe that some librarians can find information on a subject better than non-librarians, myself included in that latter category (particularly those librarians in reference, though note that not all librarians are reference librarians). The browsing experience, which some people describe as information encountering, is also important. Also recognize, however, that while librarians do help provide access to information, they do other things as well which are related to access. Examples include cataloging, preservation and conservation.

Let people loose in the “stacks,” and I’m sure most librarians would think that it’s a wonderful idea. That’s great. Most physical libraries have open stacks, with the full support of librarians. That’s generally how I find information as well. I don’t go a librarian very often to find information, although I certainly know people who rely on librarians for that service. It’s just not what I do, although I make it a point to not undervalue librarians who do reference work because people really do use and need those services.

Looking at my personal library behavior, I rely on librarians to make sure that the collection has the information I’m looking for, to provide cataloging information so I can find the things that I’m looking for whether or not they’re in the collection, to provide access to information that I cannot afford on my own, to provide a space for me to do research, to get the information for me when it’s not in the collection, to answer questions I may have about the history of an item, to answer questions I might have about other concerns, and probably other things that I’m not thinking of off the top of my head. ^^; Those are examples of ways I’ve used the library recently.

I don’t think anyone is arguing in this situation that search engines aren’t good. They are. Problems can come when people do not recognize the limits of search engines.

Keyword searching is also a very good thing. It’s not always the best or only way to find information. Here’s an anecdotal example that came up yesterday.

My wife, who works in a serials cataloging department as a parprofessional, is interested in researching Catherine Parr, last wife of Henry VIII. She’s searched, and found, a great deal of information online. She used various search engines, Amazon and other book vendors for books, followed links, and so on. The search was more difficult to some extent than a standard search because the spelling of Parr’s name is not standardized. When she was searching for books, she did not find many books until she went to the catalog, where there were standard subject headings and contextual information she could use to find the information. Both the search engine and the catalog search were important to her research. They were not exclusive of each other.

To some extent, this discussion is touching on the issues of authenticity and authoritativeness, which are also issues in libraries and other cultural institutions. That is a whole other can of worms, though.

I’m not saying that opposing Google Search is a pro-library, pro-librarian public policy. In fact, in the fair use argument, I support Google. I think what they’re doing should be legal. I think their contract with the library could have been much better for the library than it was, but that’s another issue. I also think that libraries are better caretakers of information than Google is, for reasons I’ve mentioned before.

I’m saying that recognizing some of the problems that may come with Google’s project is important when looking at public policy, emphasis on the public. Libraries do things that Google cannot do, and provide access that Google cannot provide. Even for this project, for one example, while Google can help me find the book, there’s a decent chance I’ll only be able to read the book in its entirety at a library. Again, I don’t think they’re necessarily exclusive of one another.

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