For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
May 25, 2006 - Librarians Compete with Google
Every so often, someone asks me if libraries are really necessary now that we have Google.
We brought it on ourselves, I think.
There were a lot of librarians, pre-Google, who tried to define our profession solely on the idea of "information." Ask a librarian, and we'll look it up for you!
Then the Internet came along, then Google emerged as the top search engine. And the people who just would never take the time to phone a librarian, or stand in line at a desk to ask something, found Google marvelously convenient.
So if looking up answers was what librarians do, then Google seemed better: up 24/7, blindingly fast, and so dead simple anybody could use it. You always got something!
There are two responses, though. First, "looking up questions" isn't the only thing librarians do.
There are a variety of services that are just as important: inculcating a love of reading in the young, allowing the public to sample the many offerings of both popular culture and more enduring works, providing common and neutral ground for the public to meet and talk with itself, helping the community solve a host of other issues. And more.
The second response is that even in "looking up questions," we're not down for the count.
People still DO talk to our reference librarians. In fact, the demand for reference services is rising far faster than our population growth -- by double digits every year.
Our conversations with the public often start with them saying, "There's nothing on the Internet, can you help me find something?" They mean that they did a Google search and couldn't find anything relevant.
A recent worldwide survey of some 5,000 online users revealed that most searchers have great confidence in their searching abilities. But we don't know if that confidence is justified.
For one thing, librarians really are good searchers. We can find things on Google that you can't.
And Google isn't the only game in town. Google indexes the public Internet. That encompasses many billions of pages. But the depth of those resources is often shallow.
It happens that we spend almost a quarter of a million dollars on other online resources. For just a hint of this shared treasure, go to our website (www.DouglasCountyLibraries.org) and click on Research Tools, then Research Resources. There it is: a public reference library, most of it searchable from home around the clock, and packed with high quality information.
We also have actual people (through various shared staffing arrangements) providing online reference help 24/7.
But here's the other way librarians have misrepresented ourselves.
Google's strength is its interface.
To date, librarians have gathered some wonderful sources, but until recently, you had to search them one by one -- a hassle that depends on a lot of familiarity with the tools. In short, it meant that you almost HAD to ask a librarian.
For a look at our latest effort (and still under development), head back to that library home page. On the upper right corner, pull down the "Select-A-Search" box. You can choose, Magazine Search, Just for Students, Business Search, Health Search, or Library website.
Most of these searches don't just search one of our commercial databases; they search sets of them.
Like Google, it's one stop shopping: one search box. But you'll pull up things Google doesn't have: authoritative commercial information, pre-paid by your library.
Give it a try.
Libraries were here before Google. We'll be here after. But that doesn't mean we can't learn from our competitors -- and even go them one better.