Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one. — Neil Gaiman
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.
The Statistical Abstract of the United States is a neat little reference work. It’s been around since 1878 and provides all sorts of nuggets and gems of information about the US all gathered together in one place. And it’s about to die an untimely death due to budget cuts.
And just when you think, “Do we really need to spend money on this anachronism when Wikipedia and Google are chock full of this type of information — for free?”, you realize that much of the statistical information in these sources is taken directly from the Statistical Abstract due to its public domain nature and its comprehensiveness. The availability of this type of data will be much harder to locate, without paying for it or doing a lot of research in other sources, in a world without the Statistical Abstract.
There are efforts afoot to save the Statistical Abstract. If you believe the production of this work is important and should continue, please sign the petition.
the.effing.librarian offers some great commentary about the Google Books Settlement ruling and how Google becoming evil (at least in the eyes of the American public) could be the best thing for open and free access to information.
Two well-reasoned articles by Siva Vaidhyanathan on this week’s Google Books Settlement ruling:
From The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Judge Chin’s ruling on the settlement between Google and authors regarding the Google Books project made news this week. Here’s some reaction from libraries and library organizations participating in this project.
Penn State University Libraries Google Book Project Page
Committee on Institutional Cooperation (Big 10)
Library Copyright Alliance
As followers of my Twitter feed or Facebook page know I have been reading Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book The Googlization of Everything which has an entire chapter dedicated to a critical analysis of the Google Books project that aims to scan books from the world’s foremost libraries and make them available in digital form, copyright be damned. Add to this the fact that a ruling was announced on the settlement between some large publishing groups and Google (long story short the settlement is moot), it has been an interesting and synchronous week for me. I’ll post more once I have the chance to read through the backlog of chatter on the matter and finish Siva’s book!