Monday, January 23, 2006

The library versus Googling

Over the weekend I received my copy of Library Resources & Technical Services. The first article, “The Future of Cataloging” by Deanna B. Marcum, caught my eye because it simultaneously deals with both aspect of my job: digital content and descriptive cataloging. There’s a lot to digest in this article, and right now I just want to comment on the first section, “using the library versus Googling.”

In this section, Marcum discusses the fact that students prefer searching Google to searching the library homepage/OPAC. Google gives students information with a simple click, while the library webpage requires navigation through many layers to find the needed information. According to a study, students even prefer the clutter of irrelevant and non-authoritative sites to the library webpage, and are able to approach this clutter “in an enthusiastic and proactive manner.” I think this last statement is underestimated in the library community. Librarians often don’t give students credit for being able to weed through web results. As a recent student (and still socially connected with students), I know that many are capable of finding the correct information on the web using Google. As the generation that grew up with the internet begins to enter college, we should see better developed searching skills.

My other reaction to this section of the article deals with the entire underlying assumption of the “library versus Google.” Why? Google and other search engines are tools that index words. They do not provide content (yet). The library provides content and access points (words). Why is it one versus the other? It sounds like they should be working together. Why are our search engines so much more complicated? A student should be able to enter their search words in the front page of the library site and be directed to resources that may be useful, whether they are databases, books, or electronic resources. Google is learning to provide content by digitizing books. Maybe libraries should learn from Google and create search engines that are easier to use, and trusting that the students will be able to weed out irrelevant results themselves.

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