Sunday, October 15, 2006

Thoughts about Google

When reviewing my blog stats, I've been surprised at how many people find this blog by searching for some combination of Google and libraries (see previous post). There is certainly a wide-spread interest in how Google and libraries are going to interact in the current and emerging information environments. During my (brief) career in field of librarianship the projects I've worked on have had very different interactions with Google.

2004: I was working at Harvard College Library when Harvard announced that Google would be scanning select materials from its libraries. As a member of the Imaging Services department, I was very interested in how this would influence future directions of the department. Imaging Services had already been scanning books for several years and was aware of many of the problems encountered during the digitization process. Would Google digitize to the same standards? And how would the department stay relevant if Google's output was so much greater?
  • Regarding standards, it seems that libraries are still holding themselves to higher standards than Google. Reports of missing pages, thumbs in images, and lack of accompanying metadata for Google Books show that librarians' attention to detail still differentiates us from Google. However, it is possible that Google will find innovative solutions to these problems. When and if they do, I hope that we will be ready and able to learn from them.

  • Regarding relevance in the age of Google Books, the librarians I worked with were confident that we would stay relevant. One of our most important roles as librarians is bringing collections together and providing quality information for our patrons. At Harvard this is realized through collections like Women Working and Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930. Pulling together related resources is a defining characteristic of librarianship, and one that Google will probably not be attempting.

2005: My next experience with Google was with a small digital library project. Most of our users found our website by querying Google. The benefits that Google and other search engines bring to these types of projects is tremendous. Most of the visitors to our website were not regular patrons of the library, were searching for specific items, and wouldn't have found the website without Google. This does, however, raise the significant point that Google is not yet comprehensively indexing the invisible web. When I submitted our OAI-PMH url to Google site maps, our site was crawled more thoroughly, but still not in full. I believe that as Google refines its indexing, this will become less of a problem.

2006: I currently work on a registry of digital projects that includes an item-level metadata repository of metadata from some of the projects. Included is the ability to search with more refinement than one can search with Google. Future directions the project hopes to take include offering added-value services. Another influence of Google is in the design of the website. Users arrive at a new site with habits learned from experience with other sites, and Google is a major presence on the web. Many of the conventions created by Google directly influence the website design and layout.

This past week I attended a lecture by Siva Vaidhyanathan titled "What's an Author to Do? Google, Digitization, and the Future of Books." He proposed that there are four main players in the information environment that directly interact with Google: Publishers, Readers, Authors, and Librarians. These four entities are not separate; everyone participates in all of the roles, but all of the roles interact differently with Google. My varied experiences in libraries certainly support this point--my thoughts about Google are influenced by each project's interaction with Google.

The topic of Google and libraries has also been addressed in a recently published book: Libraries and Google.