Searcher
Vol. 9 No. 2 February 2001
SEARCHER'S VOICE
Dot-Lib
by Barbara Quint Editor, Searcher Magazine
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An article by Wallace Koehler in this month's issue discusses the seven new generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) names scheduled for addition to the seven we already have (.com, .gov, .org, .edu, .net, .mil, and .int). The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, has made its decision out of dozens and dozens proposed by all sorts of agencies, e.g., the World Health Organization proposed .health, and all sizes of companies, e.g., a law firm that wanted .law. Koehler cites a URL that takes you to a list of all the proposals ICANN looked at and who proposed them. 

Curious, I clicked my way over to that URL and found surprise! surprise! that no one had apparently proposed .lib. From the list of outfits that did propose new dot-dot's, one didn't get the impression that becoming an Internet registrar was exactly like joining an exclusive club, more of a "sign the slip and here's your room key" sort of attitude, in fact. 

So will someone tell me why none of our beloved library associations, no library consortia, no major library vendor, no large library, nor apparently any individual librarian proposed a "dot-lib" gTLD? Seems like a logical option to me. Now, I'm not saying that ICANN would have granted approval, but considering some of the ones they did approve and the outfits to whom they gave approval, I think any respectable library-related applicant could have ranked somewhere in the top third of the candidate list. We may not have taken home the title, but we sure could have locked up Miss Congeniality. Even competing for such a goal would have gotten us some valuable publicity to build up the image of information professionals as players in the Wide Web World.

"There she goes again," I can hear you thinking, "Nag, Nag, Nag." Maybe you're right. But let's look at what's happening around us for a minute. With the birth of the ultimate Answer Machine, the Web, more and more people are becoming searchers and users of information. Even when they don't succeed in finding relevant information, even when they don't even try looking, most people now believe that information exists out there that addresses every problem, every situation, every opportunity. That's something new in the history of the world. 

Remember when you became an information professional, maybe way back in library school? Remember the first two things you learned about information? One, there's a lot of it. Two, there's too much of it. Well, our clients, our patrons, the ones who have now become amateur end-user searchers, have learned lesson one and are well on their way to learning lesson two. They have learned that there is more information out there than they could ever master or even corral on any subject you can name. How many "145,385 references" messages from a Web search engine would it take to teach that lesson?

Time management becomes the critical searcher skill. End-user searchers turn to any simple, easy-to-perform way of finding quick, on-target information preferably true. But the sheer quantity of the information on the Web leaves most of them making one strategic decision early, namely to stick to Web sources. After all, they judge, if it takes this long to find information in the round-the-clock accessible, all-data-for-everyone, user-friendly, comprehensively informative Web, Lord only knows how long it would take if one headed off into the limitless limits of a print milieu. 

So if we want to serve those clients, then we had better haul ourselves over to where they live and work and that means the Web. But then, we already knew that. Who would know it better than us, the information professionals? 

What we may not realize is that we have a positive image to sell, a marketing platform with legs. Librarians are seen as a little dull, but well-intentioned and authoritative. (Hey! That kind of image was good enough to win Al Gore the popular vote for president.) People feel they can trust us, but first they have to find us. We simply lack a strong, visible presence on the Web. 

Before we go out and price check the Pet.com sock dog for an advertising campaign, however, let's figure what would work best. Our primary problem lies with the breadth of knowledge areas we cover and the broad range of sources from which we draw support. What narrows the field down, however, is the critical judgment we apply to those sources. What we need, more than anything, and what if we could design it our clients could best use is some way of separating the wheat from the chaff, the vote from the chad so to speak.

How could a "dot-lib" domain name help?

First, we could grant it to libraries, identifying those fine, virtuous edifices of information pre-filtered by information professionals on multiple layers established authors, editorial staff, publishers, reviewers, acquisition librarians, etc. 

Second, we could grant it to leading meta-sites created by qualified and dedicated information professionals and, through them, we could reach the metasites developed by qualified, committed professionals in other fields. 

Third, we could grant it to top-quality library vendors, the outfits that sell libraries the goodies they own. Here we might have to insert some qualifications, e.g., only granting dot-lib status to a selection of sources.

Fortunately, the hyperlink foundation of the Internet allows for smooth referrals. If you enter a URL that does not represent a site's actual name, if the Web owner has an authentic claim to the original name, the systems can just transfer people to the correct name automatically. So let's use the ability of the Web to accommodate aliases to create a way for users to find "the good stuff," sites carrying the Web's ultimate stamp of approval recommended by librarians for librarians, receiver of the dot-lib stamp of approval!!!

Calling ICANN!!

...bq
Barbara Quint's e-mail address is bquint@infotoday.com
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© 2001