Round Up the Unusual Suspects!
by Barbara Quint
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
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 email@example.com;
for Yahoo! Search, it's firstname.lastname@example.org.
What light from yonder window breaks? It is the east
and we are the sun!
Barbara Quint's e-mail
address is email@example.com.