Librarians and Google: Differing Motivations

Eric Rumsey brings up some interesting points on his blog this morning in his post “Google & Librarians as Cousins“. He argues that librarians and Google are cousins due to our shared “understated modesty” and interest in making the Web an “user-friendly place where people can actually find what they’re looking for”, and I would agree that on the surface, this would be true. The difference between librarians and Google are our motivations for doing what we do.

Google is a corporation that serves the needs and desires of its shareholders. Google’s primary motivator is profit, and as Siva Vaidhyanathan illustrates in The Googlization of Everything, Google’s true product is us. As users of Google, it is our preferences, searching habits, and online usage that is being served up to advertisers for a price. I don’t deny that Google has helped us all immensely by making the Web better, easier to navigate, and more “user-friendly”. I just wish they would be more honest about why they do this.

Librarians on the other hand provide information, help people find what they are looking for, and make all information — print and digital — more “user-friendly”, because we have a calling to this profession and it is what makes up our very essence. And often times, we do this with very few strings attached, and typically with the motivation that it is our vocation to “help people find what they are looking for”. That is why society, through public institutions like schools and public libraries, pay us to do what we do. Instead of trying to be more like Google, librarians must strive to get corporations like Google to be more like us. Failing that, we must continue to compete with Google in the hearts and minds of society and show them our way is the best. This is our vocation as librarians.


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