Friday, November 2, 2007

Impress Your Professor: There's No "I" in "Team"

Google is like The Blob out of one of those early horror movies. It just grows and grows and grows, consuming everything in its path. Soon, nothing will be safe from its evil clutches. The Google Blob will just continue to grow until it covers the planet in its amoeba like form.

Or at least that's what most people think. And, with Google's current efforts to scan every book known to man, that is what many librarian's think.

What does Google think about all this: Meh. They're ambivalent.

In this month's Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, author Sawne D. Miksa breaks down the Googlization of the world (or at least how it impacts libraries) in her article "Them! Google’s Ambivalence toward Library and Information Science." She states that, "It is a bit extreme to paint librarians and Google locked in the same battle." When Google set out to create their Book Search, they were not seeking to put libraries and their caretakers out of business. In fact, Google does not even consider libraries their competition. Google states, "We consider our primary competitors to be Microsoft and Yahoo."

So why the disconnect? If Google is not trying to swallow up the job of libraries, why are librarians so afraid?

It looks like another case of popularity versus relevance when it comes to cataloging material. Librarians have typically relied on human judgment to create a top down hierarchy of classification for their materials. Google, on the other hand, churns everything through an algorithm that spits out which pages are most popular. Google's theory is that "a page is important if it is pointed to by other important pages."

Librarians fear that such a popularity contest is not the best method of information organization. Just because a page is popular does not mean that it is the best resource available.

So we've found the disconnect, now what are we going to do about it?

Google is not going to disappear anytime soon. Libraries are not going to disappear anytime soon. Instead of butting heads, the two groups should work together. Cooperation would be beneficial to both parties.

Google writes: "Much of the highest quality information in the world may be found in tens of millions of books tucked away in libraries and on publisher's shelves. These books can be tremendous assets - but only if people know that they exist."

As an example, I've been looking to get my hands on Paul Watson's Where War Lives. The university library does not have a copy, the WRLC consortium does not have a copy, my local library system does not have copy. But, I know where to find a book (at a library!) thanks to Google books. Google has worked with OCLC WorldCat to offer a "Find this Book in a Library" feature. Now I know that I just have to go through the Prince Georges' County Library system to get my greedy little hands on Watson's book.

Google is not "out to get us." Libraries should work with Google to make their materials more widely and easily accessible. And maybe, find a way to incorporate some good ole classification rules to the material while their at it.

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