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Google is like White Bread, choices choices (Part 2)


(Continued thoughts from my post on the topic.)

The analogy– Google = “White bread,” means that Libraries = oh let’s say “Gluten-free whole grain with caraway seeds on top.”

If this analogy holds, why would someone choose the unhealthy, cheap, and nearly flavorless selection when they can have something baked fresh, flavorful, and which probably won’t make their stomach turn (the person analyzing their research will play the stomach here)?

Well, there may be several answers to that, which may include cost, accessibility, relative satisfaction, and most importantly familiarity. Why do I say familiarity is high on the list over things such as cost? Well when everyone seems to be using the same bread to make many types of sandwiches, it becomes second nature to expect that to feed your hunger. I mean if you were looking at a menu and someone said “white bread it” for nearly every selection, wouldn’t you sooner or later just start eating it all the time?

So how can libraries compete with the ease of “white bread” and it’s colorful packaging, when we often serve up our product wrapped in a plain brown wrapper that reads, “Don’t open until the day before the exam!”? To me the only way to get the audience back is to prove that what we do is truly worth their time. I see it a bit like the PC vs Mac ads, however the roles are a bit reversed.

To that end, we need to start focusing on making our systems work for the user and not having the user “work” to find the simplest answer. We may know the rules and why we made them, but to the average user entering our domain the rules are nothing more than extra reasons not to eat your vegetables. What I am suggesting isn’t to make our services worthless, or shall we say filling without any nutritional value, but instead to be a bit more like a certain coffee vendor. Put the library in every corner of their world, make the coffee just a bit better than the office brew, throw in some interesting marketing, stir in just the right amount of cost effectiveness, and then keep the menu options changing (without sacrificing the regular stand-by’s.)

When thinking about banning the use of Wikipedia and Google for students, I don’t know if I agree with such a “cold turkey” approach. Yeah you shouldn’t use a Wikipedia article for all of your research, but fishing the Google seas for ideas can be pretty enlightening. Eliminating the choices altogether seems about as reasonable as only citing from the abstracts. Without the ability to accurately judge the applicability of each information resource, aren’t we limiting the ability for those young researchers to effectively develop such skills? Frankly, I wouldn’t want to get rid of my ability to make a grilled cheese sandwich with white bread. Sometimes you just want to have “white bread.” Maybe we’ll just have to cut the crusts off sometimes….

There may come a time in the near future when online reference sites such as Wikipedia or Google Knol are managed and maintained with a ferocity, and authority, that is as good as if not better than the traditional sources. Social authoring isn’t something new to the world of research, the OED for example, and with the strides forward in technology, it is becoming much easier for those outside of the traditional academic caste to make their influence felt. Truly, would a peer-reviewed Wikipedia or Knol entry be any less relevant than an entry in a traditional encyclopedia? Imagine the information being updated within seconds with a history of those changes at your fingertips. Seems to me to be much more useful than the old 1976 Encyclopedia Britannica set I used to have in my old home.

Topics like these are where librarians could shine and possibly begin to take the lead in such endeavors. Okay, so we probably can’t beat Google for the amount of information it spits out daily, but couldn’t we make Google work with our goals? If we would begin to coordinate our efforts in the areas most valuable to our goals, couldn’t our information sources start being top of the indexed lists?

Furthermore, librarians provide a much-needed service to their communities. Whether they be public, academic, school, or special; a librarian helps feed those suffering from information poverty or undernourishment. But simply feeding the hungry doesn’t stop the world in its tracks. Finding a way to not only exhibit the amazing things we do everyday, but to further market such exhibitions would help to get a rejuvenated image of the library into the minds of the “white bread” stuffed youth. Yeah it’s much easier to say this than to successfully do it, but I find trying to reach out to the audience much easier than reading statements about how libraries are in decline and failing.

We have a staggering amount of people who are quite adept at repackaging that old library brand. I am not saying we need to think of this as “selling ourselves short” by any means. Maybe we can make them “want to buy.”

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