Friday, February 25, 2005

 

Google and the ALA

There is a rather dismissive article by the head of the American Library Association, Michael Gorman, in the Library Journal called “Revenge of the Blog People!”. Apparently, Mr. Gorman got a bit of criticism over a previous article called “Google and the God’s Mind” in which he reacts to Google putting a large number of books online. This criticism of him, of course, is a terrible thing, since he is the head of the ALA, and therefore knows more about doing research than anyone else. Nonsense. How long has it been since he did any kind of serious research? I’m betting it was before Google, since he apparently has no idea just how useful a tool it can be. I’ve found key pieces of information for patrons on Google countless times. Of course, this almost always leads me to a (a-hem) “reputable source” such as MLA, the Library of Congress catalog, or Worldcat. You know, when these online sources of information first came out, there were complaints that they too, were a bad idea. That they would be “an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs.” There were even complaints that electronic inter-library loans would be a bad idea since they didn’t put the article/chapter in its proper context, and that physically shipping the book was the only way to insure that the integrity of the information be retained. Of course, these became standard tools of reference and research work. Is Google books perfect? Of course not! What database is? Even the hallowed Library of Congress is wrong on occasion. However, Mr. Gorman should know that thanks to MLA, Worldcat, Lexis Nexis, and, yes, even Google, information that took days or weeks to get is now available in minutes or seconds.

Comments:
Hi - here via Instapundit.

I have no fewer than 5 librarians in my family, from my mother's second cousin to my soon-to-be brother-in-law, and am considering the field myself when return to work after launching my youngest child. I always figured librarians to be the Irish monks of our time, determined to preserve knowledge and inspire learning in the face of willful ignorance, regardless of the source or the viewpoint (yes, I know the real Irish monks didn't exercise quite so little gatekeeping).

Therefore, I read Mr. Gorman's Library Journal piece with utter dismay. I'd never actually questioned my librarian relatives about the Internet - I'd just assumed that they would look on it and people who use it for daily information-gathering benignly, even though I know they have both better tools and better training to undertake serious research (which is why librarians are going to be more important, not less, in years to come, I think). Now I had to wonder whether I could be wrong about them -

And then Glenn Reynolds steered me to your blog and all was again right with the world. OK then.

I'm going over to your sci-fi vs. politics post now to comment!
 
"Irish Monks of our time" I like that a lot.
 
Mr. Gorman ogjects that Google returns too many results in no particular order (except perhaps by number of previous "clicks" or paid-for preferential treatment). Well, yes, as my own lack of skill at using it and other search engines testifies - I have been known to get a note that the search found over two million hits, and would I please refine the search. But, this is worse than no linkage at all?

I am old enough to have used physical card catalogues at the public libary and even university. Great if you wanted to look up "Das Kapital", or "Marx, Karl" - but lousy if you wanted to find writings about the subject, unless it happened to be in the title. For example, I was told to research submarines. Found two books, one each on a particular submarine. Being something of a voracious reader, I knew there are a lot more books that reference submarines both as instruments of war and as instruments of research, and on related bathyspheres and bathyscapes, diving suits and "skin" diving, etc: Google is much more likely to include such in its results than my local library's title-or-author catalog.

His take on bloggers is similarly flawed. Yes, there are a lot more bad ones than good ones - not helped by such as my own, with a single entry because Blogger would not allow me to post a comment on a blog unless I had a Blogger blog of my own. But you can find the most interesting things. I once folowed a link to "Marmot's Hole", mostly about Korean politics, and by serendipity discovered that the Monitor and Merrimac/Virginia were far from the first ironclads: that distinction probably goes to a fleet of six (Gobukson) built circa 1582 by a Korean Admiral which almost single-handedly held off a Japanese invasion force.
 
      Yes, Mr. Gorman, Google is a very imperfect search engine.  So are all other search engines.  They all use some form of keyword system, and none of them understand the material they're searching.

      In other breaking news, these kids today listen to crappy so-called music that's not a tenth the quality of the stuff we listened to as teens.  What's wrong with them?

      Mr. Gorman complains that libraries lack money, but when the day comes that every book is available online, my local public library system will save a pretty penny.  I'm constantly requesting books via interlibrary loan, and they won't have to do that for me anymore.

      The more ways there are to get access to information, the better.
 
Via instapundit also. He rules. I am a librarian and have read Gorman's tirade in the Library Journal. I was struck by the fact that he wasn't really addressing the issue of blogs. He seemed more concerned about the Google digitization. All he manages to address about bloggers is that they're ignorant and nasty. Daniela Dixon
 
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