22 May 2014

The problem is not with Google

So someone that I follow somewhere shared a link to this article from the Huffington Post about "What's really wrong with Google"and frankly...it's disappointing as all get out.  The writer identifies themselves as an ex-librarian and starts off with a solid point, that a lot of the time Google does not return the results that people are looking for.  But she then delves into the fallacy that it is Google's fault that this happens, that Google is trying to do away with libraries, and gosh darnit! get that technology out of my library! Or at least that's what it sounds like, given that she states that DIALOG is the pinnacle of searching interfaces.

I really wanted to respond on the post with my thoughts, but...well let's just say that I have issues with their account creation system and leave it at that.  So instead I share my thoughts below:

I'm a librarian and frankly I'm disappointed in your argument that there's something wrong with Google and how people use it.  Yes Google doesn't always return results on topic, but should you blame them? 
You mention DIALOG and I've only used it once..in library school.  DIALOG has faded into the background because it was overly complicated for people to try to use and only librarians could use it. As far as it being able to provide good results, those didn't happen by accident. It happened because someone went through and assigned them the correct terminology. The same could happen today, but it's up to the web programmers to do that 
As far as Google's interface goes, I don't blame them from running away from library interfaces. I mean seriously? I've got a Master's and I still struggle trying to figure out some of the interfaces of the databases that we use today.  Look at DIALOG's "classic" interface! I understand it better now that I've worked with the Linux command line, but no wonder most people couldn't figure it out.
Is Google the be all end all? No...but nor is it Google's fault that result are not what people want. It is because we don't know how to search well and what words to use. We never have to be honest. Even back in card catalog days we had to depend on the librarian to be able to follow the trail. The problem is not Google, but that we have failed to teach people how to search properly. And that is up to us to improve.

And I'm absolutely serious.  We've failed at teaching people how to search.  With card catalogs most of the population couldn't figure out the trail to connect A to Z without a librarian's help. I mean seriously, I remember looking for information on dinosaurs in middle/high school and we had to look at 100 different cards to find 10 sources that I could use.  And it wasn't because they were bad sources, it was because we had to trace through 3 to 5 different cards to find the item sometimes.  So it really should not be a shock to our systems that people leaped at the chance to have a single search box interface that they could actually understand and it would give them some things that were what they wanted?

If we, as librarians, want people to be able to find better results then we need to stop blaming the products like Google and teach our users on how those results are found, and what they can do to get better results.


Phil said...

People don't want to search, they want to find. It's librarians who want to search - we enjoy it, we get a kick out of the functionality and the hunt. The members of the library just want their answer.

Good post!

Andrew said...

thanks Phil! And that's a great point, people just want to find. We need to make it easier or stop getting upset when people say "nope this is good enough for me."