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Magazines > Searcher > January 2005
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Vol. 13 No. 1 — January 2005
SEARCHER'S VOICE
Round Up the Unusual Suspects!
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine

Imagine yourselves back at the dawn of time — library time, I mean. There you stand, an invisible presence, at the bent shoulder of some becowled monk who suddenly straightens up and breaks his vow of silence with the loud proclamation, "Hey! I already illuminated a manuscript that looks just like this. Why the @#$@#$ doesn't someone catalog this stuff so we don't have to keep making these (bleepedy-bleep) mistakes?" Or let us whisk forward to a chemical laboratory just a century or more ago. There stands a chemist taking off his lab coat and reaching for his muffler and galoshes. We hear him say, "I don't care how much work we have to do yet. Even if that lab rat we call our manager fires me for it, I'm going to the ACS meeting and telling them that if they want to keep getting my dues, they've got to find a way to track all these articles every chemist with a pencil keeps writing day and night!"

As this issue went to press, two hot news items hit the virtual newsstands — Google Scholar and Yahoo!/OCLC's toolbar. [For more details on these two developments, you can check out two NewsBreaks: "Google Scholar Focuses on Research-Quality Content," http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb041122-1.shtml, and "OCLC and Yahoo! Offer Joint Toolbar," http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb041115-3.shtml.] Together the two announcements describe a potentially major development in the future of research support and perhaps of library service in general. Basically, both Google and its closest competitor, Yahoo!, have begun to segregate the kind of information traditionally handled by libraries. Google Scholar uses algorithmic programs to extract scholarly research content from the open Web. To this, it adds cited sites from the network of publishers, scholarly societies, educational institutions, even libraries with whom it has established relations. The announcement of this new service received coverage at a national level — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, et al. — as well as in the trade press serving the information industry and academia.

In a more conservative approach, Yahoo! customized a version of its toolbar to allow a single click to reach OCLC's Open WorldCat material. On Yahoo!, by the way, that coverage has already taken advantage of OCLC's opening up the entire WorldCat collection, all 57+ million records instead of the 2-million-record subset in use — as we went to press — in Google and Google Scholar. The structure of the toolbar looks like it would allow Yahoo! to expand the segregation of library-style material to other sources, including all the access introduced by its Content Acquisition Program, e.g., OAIster, a special collection from Getty, Project Gutenberg, etc. We are reliable informed that OCLC would not only not oppose such an expansion on the jointly marketed toolbar, but actively suggested it. In its first phase, the burden of marketing and promoting the new toolbar fell entirely on OCLC and whatever it could persuade its member libraries to do. However, upon the announcement of Google Scholar's beta launch, the wiseacres following the field predicted Yahoo! might respond with something on its home pages. My personal — and oft-voiced — suggestion is a "LIBRARY" icon on the Yahoo! Search and Yahoo! home pages.

But what does this all mean to us information professionals? It means that we are present at the birth of the ultimate mega-bases for locating the content which, up to now, resided on our shelves, but has begun to veer off into the open Web or some more proprietary digital venue. It means that the finding tools needed to keep open access from turning into a librarian's nightmare have arrived. It means that we have new "vendors" with whom to negotiate acceptance of our roles as guides and coaches on what works with clients and what doesn't, on what needs doing and in what order, on when perfection — or at least viability — has been achieved.

Only one problem. We are missing a major lever here, namely, money. These vendors don't perform on dollar demand, or at least not from our dollars, or at least not yet. For some of us, the lack of user charges when the giant Web search engines began kept us from believing in their stability or endurance. But today we all rely on Google and Yahoo! to perform our daily tasks and we all must admit that our faith is as nothing compared to the childlike trust of our clienteles. Before any of us attempt to re-insert our scalps into the ostrich holes or listen to the siren calls of Scirus, let us first recognize the Iron Law of the Third Millennium. To wit: Never Move Mohammed, Always Move the Mountain of Data. In other words, identify the user's line of sight and shove the data to where they're looking.

Of course, this does not mean that one might not prefer scientists and technologists to search Scirus or Scopus or Web of Science first, but — knowing what we know about our users' behavior — we must assume that most, not just many, will start with Google and, with suitable promotion, Google Scholar. We know that inserting a toolbar that reaches library content through Yahoo! Search will be easier and more effective for us to engineer with patrons than scheduling instructional sessions and expecting all the lessons to take. Such instructional sessions are still needed and good ideas, just as using Scirus/Scopus/Web of Science or any licensed collection of digital excellence would be a good idea for any of our users. Nonetheless, the greatest efficiency, the greatest success in improving end-user searching, lies in "fixing" the sources they use, not fixing the users to search the right sources.

Which brings us to today's problem: How do we move Google and Yahoo! to improve their offerings until they reach what we consider an acceptable level of reliability? So far, we do not have the cash incentive to use. That may change, but it hasn't so far, and there is no reason to expect it to soon. So what moves them? Eyeballs. Mindshare. World conquest. Beating their competition.

To give them what they want in order to get from them what we want, we need to deliver our users as well as ourselves. We need to advertise, promote, market, instruct in more than one direction. We need to help tell the world about the new services, but first we need to examine and evaluate those services, to kick some tires and inform the manufacturer when we find problems. We need to impress on these new cash-free vendors how lucky they are to have such observant assistance from such an information-wise and patron-connected user community. We need to find ways to supply our input that are both efficient — to save the vendor's time and effort — and visibly effective — to build our credibility with the vendor as a promoter of their services. We also need to use some of our muscle with the content sources the vendor wants to land. Usually such sources belong to the traditional library vendors with whom the money leverage would play. It might even be possible for our own budgets to come into play in a controlled manner.

Here's just one scenario. Right now Google Scholar claims to include some theses. Now we all know that dissertations (and some theses) are the province of ProQuest, which sells copies of this literature and licenses access to Comprehensive Dissertation Abstracts through traditional online vendors and library licenses. What about putting some pressure on ProQuest to open up the data to public access through Google Scholar and Yahoo! Search? It would certainly seem likely to drive up the sales of dissertations on microfilm or whatever medium is now current with ProQuest. Academic librarians serving the institutions providing ProQuest with the dissertations might open discussions with their management about how much more such open access would promote the university and even assist in the employment of its graduates and future donating alumni. ProQuest might worry that such discussions could lead dissertations into the maw of the Open Access movement. BRRR!! If ProQuest still drags its heels, perhaps a network of libraries, e.g., a delegation from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), could create a slush fund to cover the current revenues from licenses to CDA and open up world access.

Whatever librarians and information professionals do to help the new services, make sure they know it's our help that brought it about. Copy them with information on what you're doing and what you need, everything from announcements of promotions or classes including their services to forwarded messages from researchers, faculty, students, colleagues, using the services. For Google Scholar, send your comments to scholar-publisher@google.com; for Yahoo! Search, it's psm@yahoo-inc.com.

What light from yonder window breaks? It is the east and we are the sun!

...bq


Barbara Quint's e-mail address is bquint@mindspring.com.
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