Keeping Pace With Google: DVDs Are Not The Answer

It keeps clicking for me, and the good news is it seems to be clicking with some other folks as well. So I think this should raise a question. This is a simple question, though it's 800+ words long: With whom does this need to click for it to matter? Does it need to click with the ALA? The directors of the ACRL libraries? If I'm wrong, and this is yet just one more "end of the libraries" time, then our profession live through it just fine. If you agree with me, who should we being trying to convince we're right? Let me explain a little what I'm talking about here.

Like Karen, Gandel's "Wrong Train?" gave me a couple new clicks:

1. This is another "end of the libraries" time when some people are very worried.

2. We are nodes. We are a small piece of a huge information industry that we used to have a monopoly on.
1. This is yet another "end of the libraries" time:
Sometimes I forget I'm one of the new kids around here, and my grasp on history is tenuous at best. Most people in leadership positions in our profession have been around for decades. This gives them a much better long term view. They have years of experience and a feel for how things used to be. They've also been hearing gloom and doom for years. I have little to base this one, but this could be one reason many of the people who really drive our profession are just not engaged in this issue. In the past year we have Gorman and that guy from Indiana dismissing blogs and Google as an inferior product worthy of our collective scorn. More recently, Gorman spent his luncheon talk at LITA on Bibliographic control on the Web. Showing the librarians love for a precoordinate world, he also showed me he doesn't get it. It's important to note here I didn't see his talk, so I can only go on what I read. Did he really talk about a new renaissance in cataloging?

Gorman suffers from what my experience has shown to be a common trait among librarians that have years of experience: a strong need for control. The need to take information and cram it into subjects, the precoordinate way of thinking. And there's nothing wrong with that, or at least there hasn't been anything wrong with that way of thinking for the past couple centuries, but it may be time to think different and see where it leads us. In any case, while it matters a great deal what the ALA is focusing on, it also matters what John Q. Public is thinking.

The CEO Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library was just quoted as saying "Google is replacing the professional librarian, she has said. Libraries must stock best-selling books and DVDs to keep pace." That same Article quotes an ex-city councilman as saying "Looking ahead to the information age, this is just not the way people get their information," he said of the library's store of books. Is he right? Maybe, maybe not, but unless we're out there fighting to make sure our side is heard, libraries won't be the way people get their information in the future. Are we happy becoming a free replacement for Blockbuster video, or do we want to be in the information business in 20 years? Are we really keeping pace with Google by offering more DVDs? What happens with most people start using digital cable to get their movies?

So while I'm well aware that I haven't been around long enough to understand how things used to be, I'm not sure that's really a hindrance in this case. I really don't know for sure this really isn't just yet another "end of the libraries" time created by people who don't know any better. BUT, I'm as sure as I can be that we're in a different place and time now, and our profession is in big trouble moving forward, and I think it has little to do with Iraq, and much to do with Google.

2. Libraries are nodes:
It may now be necessary to us a completely different way of thinking about the environment we are now working within. The new way goes something like this: we are just part of a larger group of collaborative being who will all work together and bring order to chaos by using tools like Wikis. In my mind the jury is still out on the Wiki future, but I am quite certain the days of central authority control are quickly moving into the past.

The times have changed. Gandel quotes Kobulnicky as saying libraries are now buying "collections" of electronic material put together by others, I'd add we aren't buying anything, we're simply renting access time. We are no longer collecting and preserving, but like he wrote, we are simply negotiating for limited access. Gandel writes "Even the reference function of libraries facing increasing challenges from the Web" I think he both makes and misses an important point there. Allow me to rewrite his idea for great impact: Librarian's most important functions are being replaced by the Web. While this may be alarmist and over the top, I again ask you to think about what they web will be like in 5 or ten years. Do people think the web is replacing libraries? Whether or not they're right, it's a self fulfilling prophecy if enough of them think it. Gandel again: " As the Web continues to develop and expand, creating a vast array of information hubs, the question to be asked is: Will libraries be key nodes on this information network?" There was a time when we were THE place to come for information. That time has passed, and we can no longer operate like we are a monopoly.


Amazing grace!How sweet the soundThat saved a wretch like me.I once was lost, but now am found,Was blind, but now I see.'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,And grace my fears relieved.How precious did that grace appearThe hour I first believed.Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus farAnd grace will lead me home.The Lord has promised good to meHis word my hope secures;He will my shield and portion be,As long as life endures.Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease,I shall possess within the veil,A life of joy and peace.When we've been there ten thousand yearsBright shining as the sun,We've no less days to sing God's praiseThan when we've first begun.

I didn't see much in any of the comments about nodality. I think it is a key idea. I think I need to do idea webbing--have you ever considered adding a white board function to LISNews? Scratch that--we get enough crazy weird.

So, let's think about a schematic where Google and libraries have a give and take relationship; ditto Amazon and ABE; then there re different levels of users (students, readers, etc.); with their own arrows to Google and Amazon and Blockbuster and Kinko's. What is special about libraries? What works for us, and for our users? Can we be one node among many?

I keep thinking it comes back to the reference/reader's advisory interview. Everything else is just pointing, and it doesn't matter if the material is owned or rented, open web, electronic, whatever. It's the bit where someone uses skill to clarify a question, knows the available resources or how to find them, can interpret the resources (sometimes literally), and wants to be sure the asker got what they needed. Google doesn't do that. Neither does Amazon or Blockbuster or Kinko's (unless you get really lucky).

How do we make this "our" node, of obvious value to every funder/taxpayer in the world? We need to do it better and better. After I watch Desk Set, I just want to ask a question. Library=questions answered as a PR motif? I just worry we've already lost the focus. We've been trying ourselves (or asking our vendors) to automate every aspect of the library experience. But nobody has successfully integrated the reference interview into an automated product, nor do I think they will.

One of the reasons I've moved away from using the library, is precisely because of this attitude. When the books I read are not available to me 5 years later, what good is remembering where that story is/was? Or even the title?Weeding and cycling thru of information in the library makes it just another bookstore.I've got a bookstore with a 7 day money-back gaurantee, which also has out-of-print books. And if I like the book(s), I just don't return them.Which right now is better than a library for me.Permanency is something that only personal collections now offer.The indexing functions of a library have been less useful since the loss of the card catalog, in my experience (I should really go beat on the system again, it's been 5 years, maybe they've figured shit out). I can get about the same quality of service (sucky) from Amazon at my home, 24/7.Reference desks are getting replaced with search functions, and specialist lists and groups, which I can find via the search functions. If I have a question I can't find the answer to, I usually go hit a usenet/forum/faq, and I can get detailed specialist information...So yeah, while I will continue to support libraries and pay library taxes, I'm not sure how long I shall do that. If someone puts together a book circulating/purchasing plan and a community-wide internet access solution for every member of the community - your funding from me will be *gone*.-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

1) I think you are exactly right about Gorman, but his type will only be with us for a short time longer before they retire.

I have a fuller reply to Blake's comments here, but I just wanted to comment on this. I think Blake said something similar elsewhere. The hopes that all new librarians are going to be tech-savvy people is a false hope. They may be more aware of technology and how to use some of it but technology changes and like any other profession the great librarians will stay ahead of the changes, the good librarians will do their best to keep up and adapt, and the worst will stick with whatever limited knowledge they gained during their 'early years'. Such is life. 40 years from now young newbies will scoff at old heretics who proclaim DVDs are still a valid format and that iPods were more reliable devices.

Good comment! There are many examples of something having value, then losing its value only to gain it again years afterwards.

A really silly example is Dr. Who, which was recorded on big video tapes at the BBC. At some point in the 70's, they ran out of tapes so instead of buying more tape, they saved money by recording over old shows. I think much of the first two seasons is gone. Old films were burned to recover the silver, because the silver was worth more than the films. You get the idea.

A institution with preservation as one of its goals would have a much better chance of preserving that item, while as you mentioned a commercial entity would have thrown it without a thought.

"Personally, I think a small group of tech savvy librarians could write a PHP based OPAC which would" better than any of the commercial solutions.

That's what I get for helping my son with word problems and posting at the same time.

- K

> Just a thought. If the information is not> profitable, meaning it is not worth enough for> someone to pay to save it. Why should it be> saved?Because "profitable", when it comes to corporations deciding to save things, means "will likely cause finantial gain or prevent finantial loss in the relatively short term."I don't know about you, but there are plenty of things *I* think are worth preserving, and while "profitable" in my mind, they are not "profitable" by the narrow definition the corporations use.

Just a thought. If the information is not profitable, meaning it is not worth enough for someone to pay to save it. Why should it be saved?

1) I think you are exactly right about Gorman, but his type will only be with us for a short time longer before they retire.

2) I think Libraries have always been renting information. When information was mostly in book format, you could certainly preserve that book and move on. However, most referece works and serials were purchased on a subscription schedule, and usually were weeded periodically as the information was outdated. Its a short leap from subscriptions in perpetuity to renting access, and it does have advantages, such as saving space.

Another thing to consider is if Libraries could live without their vendors, and if their vendors are really worth their fees. I think Libraries have a very disfunctional relationship with their vendors, which probably needs to be addressed. Personally, I think a small group of tech savvy librarians could write a PHP based OPAC which would

Also, consider that information that isn't percieved as profitable isn't going to be preserved by corporations. Who will preserve it?

I almost modded this off-topic, but then I thought it could be indended along the lines of Larry Garfield's speech. Hmm.

I think that Blake has hit upon one of the most pressing concerns for libraries and librarians: how do we find our niche in such a period of transformation? The traditional methods such as those espoused by Michael Gorman will not fill the bill. Maybe the continuance of those methods will entertain librarians, but the majority of library users will care less. They want to find information quickly and will view limited subject descriptors as barriers not enablers.I recently attended a conference session on collaboration between an academic library, Serials Solutions and Google to link full text holdings on Google Scholar through OpenURL links. Such projects strikes me as advisable. However, some in the audience exhibited a negative bias towards Google by groans or audible negative comments upon the mention of its name. We are already dealing with many corporate, for-profit vendors as it is, what is so different about Google? Yes, Google is not perfect but are our libraries? Resource collaboration, not resource control, is the key to a library's future.I'm also worried that librarians are equating validity with cost, e.g. Britannica vs. Wikipedia. How many librarians actually have enough time to evaluate all of the articles in an encyclopedia or peruse the titles lists from aggregators? We trust that the developers of these products had already done such work. As much as we like to espouse the concept of free information, it is interesting that we have our own brand loyalties, e.g. EBSCO, Gale, LexisNexis, etc. Are we so different from the millions of loyal Google users?

Subscribe to Comments for "Keeping Pace With Google: DVDs Are Not The Answer"