LITA hosted a debate between Roy Tenant, Stephen Abram, and Joseph Janes about the future of search and how libraries will be affected. Will libraries have a place in society in the future? Will Google take over the world and leave us in the dust?
It fascinates me that this conversation keeps coming up. I know, it’s still relevant, but it seems like the messages that I heard in the portion of the debate I attended really seem to be the messages that I’ve heard over and over again since I was in library school 4 years ago.
Searching on the web sucks, as was mentioned in the session, and we all know it. Our patrons know it, too, but still they end up doing what they can with what they have, and really being OK with the first 10 search results they receive. Roy mentioned that Google will only outseat libraries if we let them, which I do believe is true, especially if we keep trying to compete in the same arena of search, instead of community. Points were made by Stephen Abram about how teaching boolean searching to patrons is really just silly, because they’ll never learn it, and that the new age of search is really about about solving problems in teams.
Roy relayed a story about how he explained the concept of WorldCat to an executive at Microsoft (I think, I could be wrong), and how the exec’s response was that it would be so awesome if WorldCat was just released to the internet wild, open source, with APIs that let people create applications that worked with and on top of it. Roy then said that he could imagine the people at OCLC freaking out (in a bad way) at the concept.
So what *if* we took WorldCat and made it *directly* open source? Why not create offer an API (Application Programming Interface) to allow poeple to create toys to make WorldCat work better and do interesting things for users? Why should we just be happy, as Stephen kinda put it, with WorldCat’s records being open in Yahoo? My response is that there’s a very defensive stance in the library world (especially with library vendors) about metadata, but it’s also, as Roy says, the issue of librarians not really being able to digest all the huge possibilities.
I live in a world where my friends share and keep up with friends’ lives on MySpace, LiveJournal, and Friendster, pictures are shared on Flickr, social plans happen through text messages and IM, on a daily basis. My friends are a hard-to-reach 21 – 40 with zero kids set in the library world, who use the same social networking applications as “millenials” (and play DDR and hang in Second Life and watch video on YouTube). We use open source applications, we happily play with the toys that come out of APIs for Flickr, Google, Yahoo!. And a good number of the people in that set live robust online lives, just like the millenials that Roy mentioned in his commentary.
Why this digression into my social set? Because the millenials aren’t the only group that exhibit these behaviors, and many of the people in my set are the new generation of *librarians* who are too often ignored. We see the value of these technologies and services, we want to integrate them into library services to adjust how we do things to reflect the affect online social networking is having on the offline, meatspace world. Not as a replacement, not as a way to unseat old-school librarians the way that people seem to think Google is trying to unseat libraries, but to find a way to take fun like tagging, social searching, and social bookmarking to serve a broader set of patrons.
So what’s my take? I agree with Roy, that Google and other search engines will only bump libraries if we let them. I agree with Stephen when he says we’re asking the wrong question, and we’re trying to compete in the wrong arena. We live in a world where information is power and yet omnipresent, and the ability to access that information is not the issue, so librarians just don’t own that market anymore. We need to stop clinging so tenaciously to the librarian-as-information-god-and-your-not defensive stance, and into a more open, community-oriented, socially-connected user experience stance.