Magazine article American Libraries

Internet Librarian: What Does Google Know That We Don't?

Magazine article American Libraries

Internet Librarian: What Does Google Know That We Don't?

Article excerpt

I'm not sure I've ever asked a question at a panel session that led to a 30-minute answer.

This is my ALA conference story for the year. Those of you who didn't make the trek to Chicago missed out on the spectacle of 20,000 glistening librarians flinging themselves back and forth to Indiana, which is where I swear the convention center is located. Chicago is one of my favorite cities, though, and everybody I talked to had a great time. Here's a suggestion for next year--how about a conflict-free time for the precision book cart drill team competition (AL, Aug., p. 63)? I missed it!

Anyway, I wasn't making mischief with the question, I promise. It was at the Reference and User Services Association President's Program, which had such an enticing panel--folks from Gale, LC, and Xrefer, as well as a VP from Google and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Quite the crowd.

Tiers of answers

The discussion centered on the future of reference publishing, access, and so on. It was going well when a question drifted across my consciousness: Google and Wikipedia are both so popular and so widely used, and they get so much buzz and attention, they must be on to something. So I asked: What do Google and Wikipedia know that we in the library world don't?

It kinda silenced the room there for a second, then the answers came. First the ones you'd probably expect: Those tools are fast; they're comprehensive (or at least seem to be); and they cover almost anything you want to ask for.

Then came somewhat deeper and more subtle answers as people gave this more thought. (I wouldn't even dignify what follows by labeling them paraphrases; my apologies to everyone involved--I'm sure I only got a fraction of what was said and missed attributions, and thus I'm doing a disservice to some pretty keen people.)

Individuals are now able to switch gears and morph interests very quickly, and systems such as Google and Wikipedia permit, even foster, that kind of investigation. Want to search for Robespierre's first name? Google it. Details on the Order of Canada? Wikipedia's got it. Probably takes you 45 seconds for either of these, if that, and that kind of speed and flexibility feeds seamlessly into a more scattershot society and culture. And while the results of those efforts might be less authoritative than, say, equivalent uses of Britannica, for a lot of people in a lot of situations they're just fine. …

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