Vol. 10 No. 2 February 2002
"Google: (v.)..."
by Barbara Quint Editor, Searcher Magazine
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The other day I was asked to write a letter of recommendation as part of a campaign by a group of benign conspirators to get one of our colleagues a major national award. At the start of the letter, I quoted the closing phrase from the Declaration of Independence, the line pledging "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." Using this particular quotation gave me a delicate diplomatic and editorial problem. For this letter to succeed, it would need to appeal to each and every committee member as much as possible actually as "long" as possible, since once the members read down through the letter and realized whom they were being asked to nominate the reason for such a Revolutionary, not to say militant, allusion would become very clear. (You didn't think it would take a conspiracy to nominate consensus candidates!)

The problem lay in citing the source for the quotation. Clearly nobody footnotes a letter. And, anyway, providing a MARC-record, AACR2-standard citation to the Declaration of Independence would be much too Marian/Marion the Librarian and not at all the thing when asking a committee made up of librarians to search "outside the box" for their award recipient. On the other hand, one cannot be sure that everyone watches The History Channel and recognizes instantly all allusions drawn to prominent 225-year old political documents. (After all, Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations was released the same year and how many lines can we all recall from that document besides the "invisible hand" allusion, of course. Ahem.) Nonetheless, most librarians do have a professional appreciation, not to say fixation, on sourcing. Besides, if any of them didn't know the origin, they might not feel the full impact of the phrase.

To solve the problem, I inserted the phrase "as the Signers wrote," using the term experts in American history apply to the signators of that historic document. My thinking was that the term might trigger a slow-moving memory while, at the same time, by its esoteric nature subtly compliment the erudition of the committee members. And, if any member of the committee chanced not to be all that historically erudite no problem they could just "google it." A quick dash to their computers to enter the terms "Signers" and "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor" and I'm sure Google or any similar search engine could verify the allusion. The engine could probably also confirm whether that last word is "honor" or "honors," since the search engines merge singular and plural forms in most cases.

Wait a minute. Did I say "Google it"? "Google" a verb? "To google"? "I google, you googled, he/she/it has googled"? How exactly would one define this new verb?

Google: (v.) 1. to conduct a search on a Web search engine, in particular a search using; 2. to phrase a search statement in a manner suiting the software of a typical Web search engine, in particular

Has the Web so permeated our daily lives that we now expect people to have it at hand? Have we started to rely on people with whom we communicate to have some level of online research as a constant available resource? Have we started to integrate that expectation into our patterns of communication?

The answers to those questions are Yes, Yes, and Yes.

By the way, when it comes to that first definition, some trouble might lie ahead. How long before the executives at hear the verb used around the old water cooler or see it written in print? Will they like Xerox Corporation or Coca Cola Inc. before them initiate a campaign of lawsuits to protect their brand name from descending into the lowercase, lower-caste status of a generic term with the related danger of loss of trademark? Lawyers doing lazy circles in the sky yet?

Real damage not litigious ones however, stems from the reality behind the second definition. We in the established information industry information professionals working in libraries, consulting firms, traditional online services, Net Newbies, publishers, etc. must face the realities of end-user experience. End-users in their millions have gone online, but they only use two online search techniques click-and-point to icons on a screen, leading through usually transparent menus or hierarchies, and basic search statements as handled by Web search engines. The first form tends to suit a browsing mentality, but when it comes to looking for something specific, end-users use the latter technique. End-users use this technique regardless of the databases they may search and, as a rule, ignore the advice or help or caveats or FAQs that attempt to teach any techniques specific to the databases in front of them.

This leads us to add another definition to the two above:

... 3. to design or apply a search engine to work with the search statement structure used by typical Web search engines, in particular, as in "The Webmaster announced their database had been googled as part of the re-design project."

All of us as information professionals must recognize that end-user searchers who now totally dominate the user community and online marketplace will use a Google-style search strategy on any and every database they see. So if we want our databases to work, we must work around that basic reality. The days when training someone to use a database also meant introducing someone to online searching have passed forever. The training materials and curricula and philosophies developed in those days must be discarded.

IT professionals must buy and learn post-Boolean search engines. Database producers and search services must reverse-engineer their services to accommodate the new strategies. Indexers must see their assigned terms turned into invisible metatags that help users find "More Like This," instead of trying to train users to memorize descriptors. Librarians must require their OPAC services to give them catalogs that can search records any way a searcher approaches them and that includes author names in non-inverted order mixed with titles and descriptors and abstract language.

Lives, fortunes, and sacred honor hang on literature searches done every day, and all but a handful of those literature searches are done outside of the supervision or awareness of information professionals. Professional ethics require us to work within the reality of the approaches end-users take when searching, rather than insisting that users learn our preferences in search techniques. Any other approach, in this day and age, would be professionally irresponsible.

Come, come, folks. It's time to become GOOGLE-COMPLIANT. 
Barbara Quint's e-mail address is
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