Magazine article Information Today

Search Me

Magazine article Information Today

Search Me

Article excerpt

Information scientists and practitioners tend to be linear thinkers, people who perform well in process-rich environments. The skill set is orthogonal: It's all about the relational and the literal. So here's the catch: Digital disruption has not only scythed through the process-heavy offerings libraries and other memory institutions (museums, art galleries, and archives, etc.) share with the world, but it's also raised a far more difficult challenge, one of culture. How so? In a word: opportunity.

Library culture is all about reacting, adjusting, and responding to disruption, when, as any 18-yearold with a gleam in his or her eye about the future will tell you, it's all about the opportunity. It goes without saying that the different responses to digital disruption distinguish libraries that are opportunity identifiers and those that choose to react rather than lead. (I put this down to librarians' native diffidence, but that's hardly universal. There are all manner of "Bolshevik librarians" out there-you know who you are.)

There's a paradox: Invisibility confers power, but for libraries, does having one's collection invisible to search engines represent an opportunity to evolve and lead in the face of digital disruption? It's easier to find a pizza, burrito, or cheap flight to Barcelona than it is to find a book at your local library via Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo.

And here's why: Most folks know about the deep web-the search space where the big search engines' crawler bots can't discover resources, links, and media related to a user's search string. Opening up this search strategy is pure gold for businesses, because it builds search engine visibility and thus rates of discovery, and, ultimately, if your strategy's an effective one, more revenue.

Libraries face a much more oblique task because collections data is hermetically sealed from search from the outside. Yes, there are very promising programs such as Zepheira's Libhub Initiative (lib hub.org) and the OCLC Schema Bib Extend project, but there are thousands of libraries that are nowhere near committing to these breakthrough search strategies.

Proper Search

The kicker, of course, is relevancy. If libraries aren't perceived as vital, vibrant resources via global search-which is where the world discovers new information by the nanosecond-then the perception will inevitably grow that libraries have missed the boat. It's commonly accepted that libraries are critical community resources. So why aren't all components visible to all, especially since search results have the collateral effect of defining what is indeed relevant? Google ranking may be crude and ad-targeting-driven compared to the nuances of highly contextualized human search hierarchies, but those Google rankings make the market. They define, for most people, relevancy in the first instance. And Google has changed the culture of search. What it says, goes.

A working example: Triaging the search results for cheap flight to Barcelona can be done in a matter of a minute or so. Trying to find a copy of an obscure book on, say, the nutmeg trade in Elizabethan England takes forever. You may never find the book because there's no metadata to narrow your search. Or you do an online chat with a librarian who may take a day to respond. In a world in which an app can get you to Las Vegas with a few touches, this is a passport to irrelevance.

It's one thing to respond defensively and try to prove social ROI. It's another thing altogether to move past the defensiveness and begin to lead your community's information marketplace. Libraries need to be active partners in evolving, testing, and deploying the latest digital advances. That's the beating heart of the relevancy battle.

Enter Zoe Dickinson. You've never heard of her, but a little digging shows that Dickinson, a third-year Dalhousie University M.L.S. student, won an important Canadian social sciences scholarship to look at precisely the search issues we're dissecting here. …

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