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
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
Google.com; 2. to phrase a search statement in a manner suiting the software
of a typical Web search engine, in particular Google.com.
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 Google.com 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 Google.com, 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.
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.
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.