There was an interesting comment posted to the Reference Extract Planning site. I thought I would share it and my response because, to me, it goes right to the heart of what I have been saying about the need for librarians to be innovators and leaders.
Here is the comment:
Good Lord. The wheel already having been invented, why feel that we can do better? It’s hard to see how this amounts to much more than a vanity project for the participants- likely to produce a welter if invitations to conferences, but with a snowball’s chance in hell of ever amounting to a product that will be embraced by librarians and certainly never by the public. This week Google announced that it topped 75% of the search engine market share! Presuming that this project produces anything at any point within the next 5-7 years, which seems like the model for this type of committee-driven development project, it stands little chance of being in sync with wherever search engine technology will be then. Hakia.com has already tried to claim this area of the search engine spectrum, and they’re lovely, helpful people, but their engine came (and went?) with nary a ripple.
Here is my original replay:
I would first refer you to the other comments about this not being an attempt to put Google out of business. I suppose we are being optimistic that there is still room for improvement in Internet search. After all, as you say, the area will continue to evolve over the next 5-7 years. The hope of this project is that the experiences of libraries accumulated over – well -centuries, may play a part in how that evolution takes place.
Take the holy grail of “local” in the search world. Search engines want to be able to take advantage of location to offer better results. Libraries are built on a distributed local model. While many have seen this as a disadvantage in the past, these days it begins to look like an asset. Is there a way to take advantage of the over 120,000 libraries in the US alone to identify unique local resources, conversations, and thinking, and then bring that to a network scale? Add to this the benefit of libraries being seen as a credible and trusted source as well, and one can easily see partnerships with Google, and Yahoo! and Hakia that benefit them and the user alike.
Your point is well taken that there are obvious established players in Internet search. Will you also take that there are other well established players in the information industry beyond the Internet itself that may have something to offer? After all, who did Google partner with in their book search project? The point of Reference Extract is not to take down Google, or Yahoo or whomever. It is to ultimately tap the power of centuries of knowledge, skills, and expertise to improve how credible information is found on the web.
I appreciate you keeping us honest. However, I also hope you’ll appreciate that while it may be vanity to think big, it is also very necessary. Remember that Google itself started as two guys with an idea going against established search engines like Alta Vista. The web itself started as a better way to link citations online than gopher. Thinking big is necessary. If we continue to look at big players and assume that their market size equates with a lack of need for innovation, we are in danger of the worst kind of complacency. Do I want to take down Google? No, but I do think it could be better. I also want to be part of lifting up libraries that are a vital social good, and a necessary part of today’s information landscape.
What I really wanted to say was “we go to plenty of conferences thank you” and “you don’t hear too much about Alta Vista and Gopher these days.” However, that would have been snarky.
I suppose what what really got me worked up over this comment was the presumption that any attempts to improve on the norm (like 75% market share) are futile. Even worse, they are a product of vanity and not a desire and need to innovate. We, as a profession MUST constantly be proactive in making positive change – even if there are those who would tell us we cannot do it. We must also be ready to listen to others with good ideas, and not feel territorial or defensive. Let’s face it, LibraryThing is cool, and we need to learn from it, embrace it, and help to improve it. The only way to do this is to be confident in our mission and our skills.
To be a good partner is to know what you do, why you do it, and how well you do it. This comment points out that many do not see innovation in that mix for libraries. That is unacceptable. It is even more unacceptable when it is librarians who doubt this.
It is cliche to talk about librarians no longer being content to sit back and assume everyone knows how useful we are. It is supposed to be general knowledge that, as Anne Lippo so eloquently put it, it is not the user that is remote, but we who are remote from the user. It is a constant drumbeat that we must change and make our libraries relevant. But dammit, we must move beyond bullet points and slogans and translate this drumbeat into real risk, real action, real new thinking.
Why can’t we replace the “Read” posters that portray libraries as places of things with “Ask” posters that show them as places of curiosity? Why do library gaming programs have to be some sort of lost leader to reading when gaming is a literacy unto itself? Who said the catalog has to be the public face of the library on the web? WHY CAN”T LIBRARIES REINVENT SEARCH?