Friday, May 13, 2005

It's All Interesting - Google Scholar

On May 10, Google announced that the pilot project that had about 30 libraries provide direct links to articles found through Google Scholar had been opened up to any library that cares to participate. Rather than repeat what others have written, read Gary Price's good summary and comments here, the announcement on the Google blog here, and here from the free version of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

There hasn't been--that I've found--a great deal of dialogue about this in librarywebland yet.

It is so very interesting that Google continues to introduce stuff (what are they? programs? services? features?) that are significant parts of the business we're in. And by that I do mean the business libraries are in as well as the business that OCLC is in. Of course, OCLC is playing a role through the Open WorldCat program that exposes library monographic collections through Google and Google Scholar.

When there are discussions among librarians about Google almost always someone says or writes something like: "we need to make sure people choose us first instead of Google." Which I happen to think is a really silly thing to say and want. This "us versus them" attitude is Don Quixotian. Don Quixote mistakes windmills for giants sent by evil sorcerers and so attacks them (hence the term "tilting at windmills) which of course is spectacularly unsuccessful.

Here's a piece from blogger Fred Wilson who muses on Google as the Starbucks of the Internet that I found fit into the messy jumble of thoughts I am trying to sort through to come up with something amazingly articulate about the place of Google, libraries, and OCLC in the world. I really do believe this isn't a fight between might and right. People go to Starbucks for many reasons: they prefer the coffee, or it's predictable and convenient and everywhere, or it's the closest provider, or they like the ambience. But people still frequent other coffee places, some of which are chains and some of which are stand-alones, for many reasons: they prefer the coffee, or it's the closest, or they like supporting a community resource.

As Mr Wilson comments in his posting: "But size is the enemy of efficiency and innovation. And Google has become a very big company very quickly. They are in Starbucks and McDonalds company now. That's great for them but its also great news for the little guy like Joe who can make a better cup of coffee or a better web service."

Shouldn't libraries offer different and higher level services than does Google, not compete for the easier quick reference business? Rather than focus on beating Google and other search engines at a game we clearly do not dominate, we all need to focus on our place in the world and decide what it is we do that provides unique and complementary services of value to our communities.

Mary Chapin Carpenter is a favourite singer-songwriter of mine and I think her lyrics for her song "A Place in the World" are a perfect accompaniment to a non-Don Quixotean quest for our place in the world. The door is open wide.

A Place in the World
Mary Chapin Carpenter

What I'm looking for, after all this time
Keeps me moving forward, trying to find it
Since I learned to walk all I've done is run
Ready, on my mark, doesn't everyone
Need a place in the world

Could be right before your very eyes
Just beyond a door that's open wide
Could be far away or in your own backyard
There are those who say, you can look too hard
For your place in the world

Takes some of us a little longer
A few false starts gonna make you stronger
When I'm sure I've finally found it
Gonna wrap these arms all around it

Could be one more mile, or just one step back
In a lovers smile, down a darkened path
Friends will take our side, enemies will curse us
But to be alive is to know your purpose
It's your place in the world
Your place in the world
Your place in the world

©1996 Why Walk Music. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree entirely. This whole "us versus them" mentality is almost childish. I attended a conference not to long ago where Dennis Dillon, of the University of Texas, presented a paper that took a very candid look at how Google is affecting libraries and user habits. He was wonderfully blunt when he said “Nobody will prefer a librarian over the internet, just because they are apparently better trained to interpret Google results” and expressed a need for librarians to be realistic about their strengths and weaknesses. We need to get over it, and start contributing where we can.