A Great Idea!!
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine
In May 2006, Google introduced a new service called Google Co-op, now just Google Coop. At the time, I thought the idea had marvelous potential for information professionals, but then I didn’t hear much more about it. However, while researching an Infotoday.com NewsBreak this May on Google’s push into state government data, I encountered the Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) service, which works off the Google Coop “platform.” And it looked just as attractive and promising as it did the year before.
Basically, the Google Custom Search Engine lets knowledgeable users identify the sites and/or search strategies that they know will retrieve high relevance, high quality content matching the interests of their user communities. Google will then drill down only in those targeted areas or, in a variation, it will re-rank results to give special relevance status to CSE-specified sources. Once built, designers can brand the CSE link on their own Web sites and annotate it as they see fit. Satisfying the eternal hunger to “do good and do well,” CSE managers can even hook up to Google ad revenue, although Google apparently assumes that dot-gov and dot-edu sites may not want this particular service. (Don’t get me started on the argument about the advisability of placing ads on library Web sites! But, honestly, when I think of all the poor-mouthing librarians do and then, with found money lying there right in front of them, they won’t even bend over … Now, I told you not to get me started.)
What a fabulous service! Reference librarians and digital bibliographers all over the land can crank out their bookmarks and favorites and convert them into focused search engines. When patrons/clients come to the Web site, they can tap the recommended sources automatically as they perform searches. Even after the library is closed and the librarians have all gone home, the genius and experience of the librarians will still be serving patrons, 24/7/365 (366 in a leap year).
You know, this fits in perfectly with the LiveLinks service we initiated this year on Searcher’s Web site. You read an article in Searcher brimming with URL’s for quality sites in whatever subject the article is discussing. You race over to our Web site [http://www.infotoday.com/searcher] and find the Table of Contents for the 2007 issue with the article of interest. Next to the article, you see the LiveLinks icon, a brownish rhomboid. Click! And up pops a window with a complete bibliographic citation followed by all the URL’s that appeared in the article. For very long lists, you will even find subtitles breaking them down into different subtopics. Download the list and get to work making or enhancing your own CSE.
This is such a wonderful idea, we should all be doing it. Hey! Hey!! How about this? For the last couple of years, the wonderful Internet Express columns from the even more wonderful Irene McDermott have had an underlying theme: The Internet Book of Life. She has built these columns around major life events — birth, marriage, death, learning a language, retiring, hobbies, leisure activities, etc. Originally, we hoped to get another book out of Irene, but her commitments make that impossible, I am told. But, when I asked her, she was willing to take on the task of converting these life-focused columns into a Google Custom Search Engine. So stay tuned for future announcements! We at Searcher magazine don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. Well, I hope we do.
In fact, Google representatives inform me that many librarians have begun exploring the possibilities of the new tool. But hearing that did worry me a little. The last thing we want is to have librarians duplicating services and expending unnecessary effort. Nor do we want clients or patrons to miss anything that might prove useful. An overview approach to subjects could prove very useful to some users, while others would need more depth and more detail.
In fact, what we need is a network approach to CSE efforts by information professionals. A well-designed array of CSEs designed and/or vetted by information professionals would establish a hierarchy built around user needs and eliminate duplication. It could also identify gaps and reach out to information pros willing to plug those gaps. Then it could vigorously market the CSE network as a co-branded accomplishment of the library profession for Web users everywhere. I can already see the ad copy for the service: “Bull’s-Eye Searches. Start here first with the sites chosen by information professionals. Librarian-vetted. Nothing but the best!”
Is this a great idea or is this a great idea?!! But is it do-able? Well, our profession has done it before when it was a lot harder and a lot more expensive to do. Forty years ago, the Ohio College Library Center (OCLC) embarked on a mission to help the libraries in the state of Ohio by sharing cataloging electronically. This pioneer effort both increased patron access to material purchased by the states’ libraries and reduced the expenditures of time and money for cataloging. The effort succeeded, probably beyond even the originators’ hopes and dreams. Today, the acronym OCLC stands for Online Computer Library Center. The not-for-profit vendor — still led, in large part, by librarians — offers a wide range of services to libraries and patrons all over the world. In the last few years, its alliance with Google and expansion into direct delivery of Web service [http://www.worldcat.org] has made it a door through which many libraries meet patrons and many patrons meet libraries. Maybe it’s time for OCLC to do for digitally savvy reference librarians what it did for catalogers.
Or maybe ALA could step up? Or another librarian association? Or even Wikipedia and its newly launched user-generated search engine, Wikia? (Though I’d prefer this to have our professional stamp on it.) When I asked a Google representative, he advised me that a hierarchical network of CSEs was completely feasible, but would require a coordinated, well-researched effort. Until someone steps up to make that commitment and go that extra mile, he strongly recommended that individuals continue to build CSEs that work for their userbase.
From little acorns, mighty oaks will grow. Enough mighty oaks and you’ve got yourself a forest.