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ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies

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Google’s Custom Search: Where Did It Go?
Volume 40, Number 6 - November/December 2016

Did schools use it in the right way? Sadly, many small colleges used CSE to restrict hits from everything but their own webpage. Sounds great to have your personal search engine for Smallville Community College, but the results are not good. I looked at such a site today at a college I know well. I searched the term “library.” There were only five items returned, and the first two talked about cafeteria service. In 2011, I visited the Googleplex to get information for a book I was writing. I got to talk to one of the developers of CSE, who was very discouraged at how badly this wonderful service was being used. He brightened up a bit when I told him about how DRAGNET had caused such a stir in the law library world. Also, I mentioned the Social Science Data Index used at Berkeley to search more than 800 sites.

Move ahead to 2016 and see how things are going with CSE. In my visit to the Plex, I was told that I could read a CSE blog for the latest developments. I did find the blog, but the latest entry was 2 years old. I found several sites with CSE examples, but, in all cases, the pages contained links that were no longer valid. One of these pages offered to make room for new CSE examples. When I sent the page owner a link to my newest project, I never heard back. For the record, my latest CSE was created shortly after I accepted an adjunct position at the Gill Library of the College of New Rochelle. It is called the Catholic Node for Research, and it finds data from a few dozen solid Catholic sites, beginning with the official page of the Vatican.

Given all of this, I congratulate Google for keeping Custom Search as an active service.

I gave a half-dozen examples of CSE pages in my book, and in checking back, about half of the pages were still going, while half had gone missing. The biggest loss was Social Science Data Search, a tremendously useful resource.

Why the slow acceptance? I, of course, have my theories. The reason that Google took over the search world was its big numbers. Searchers love seeing that their search for Obama gets 50 million hits. Few follow the links to discover they can only see the first 180 hits without revising their search. Search precision goes against the Google grain, even if it leads to better results. Also, libraries are bound to their tradition of listing links to favored websites one by one. Finally there is the bias for libraries to rightly encourage the use of subscribed databases instead of freely available information on the web.

I think we’ve all had the experience of hearing on the evening news that some movie star from the 1950s had just died. The first thought is, “I didn’t know he was still alive.” Except now he isn’t. I hope it doesn’t work out that way for Google Custom Search, because I will use it as long as I am able.


Ballard, Terry. Google This! Putting Google and Other Social Media Sites to Work for Your Library

Catholic Node for Research

DRAGNET: Search of Free Legal Databases

Google Custom Search Blog

Introduction to Yewno

Terry Ballard is a retired librarian who worked in public and academic libraries. He is the author of three books and more than 75 articles, mostly about how libraries use technology to serve the information needs of their communities.


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