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Google and Libraries : yet another debate?

14 Sep

Interesting debate brewing in the land of cuckoo clocks and chocolate on the perenity of libraries faced by the giant Google. In other words, how do libraries cope in the light of the humongous numbers of references indexed by the californian search engine?

It all started with the annual conference of the Swiss Librarians’ Association (namely Bibliothèques Information Suisse) held from September 1st to the 4th at the new Rolex Learning Center’s Library in Lausanne, on the EPFL campus. A swiss news magazine, L’Hebdo, decided to publish a supplement to its weekly issue : “Libraries : Stronger than Google” (Bibliothèques : Plus fortes que Google). I was agreably surprised to see the topic mentionned at all in a swiss-romand (hear swiss-french) magazine and even more surprised to see two whole pages dedicated to my graduating university : the Haute Ecole de Gestion de Geneve, Information Science department. It outlined our specific curriculum as information professionals while inviting potential students to “give it a try”. But mostly the supplement covered the new hyper-modern library of the EPFL in Lausanne and its chief initiator David Aymonin reminding us of the validity of scientific libraries in the modern age. While I have not visited it yet, I assisted to a few presentations about it and I am quite sure that this new brand of learning center will (eventually) change the perception of academic libraries in western switzerland… all is good then?

Maybe not… If you follow the Swiss Librarians subscription list : Swiss-Lib, there have been a few notable reactions by professionals concerning the “showdown” of libraries versus Google. One in particular asked the question : is it necessary to affront Google on its own terrain? I mean, we ALL use search engines (Google is just one of the most popular and widely-used) and we ALL, at some point, find the answers we need. A example that was given in the post applied to a similar experience I’ve had a few months ago : my first-generation Ipod froze on me, as I was leaving the house, so I googled “Ipod freeze reboot” and got the solution in… a few nano-seconds… could a library have helped me resolve that issue?

Of  course, I am the last person to talk about the so-called limitations of our actual libraries and, even then, the right word would be “specific niche” that libraries can (and do) occupy.  To resume some of the arguments in a swiss-lib post, Google is following a dangerous road : spam, marketing of keywords, managing and indexing unlimited amount of data…. are they really doing “better” than libraries? To me, the challenges are great on both sides and remind us that libraries (like search engines) are there for a reason, even in paperless versions. Libraries select and filter huge amounts of data to give their users the ressources they want in order to achieve their information needs. While a few years ago, libraries were (apparently) seriously taking the toll on technology advances compared to emerging concepts such as web 2.0 (to name one), we have bridged the gap in ways no one probably even thought possible! There are still questions and issues to be resolved : bridging the digital gap for remote users, providing more and more online resources, maintaining our relevancy in the midst of a, still-present, economic crisis, keeping our trained staff and avoiding budget cuts, etc. However, libraries have proven (and still continue to do so) that we are still very much needed in a world of paperless and volatile information, we are the solid ground on which educational and cultural strategies of our modern societies rest on… even when the world revolves at astonishing speed!

Librarians, stereotypes and the reason behind budget cuts?

25 May

I’ve recently come across a book by Larry Beinhart called “The Librarian”. Even though I haven’t had much time to read these days, apart from university courses, I thought that a nice police novel would clear my mind a bit.

Not surprisingly, after a few pages, I realized that I was going to be taken into a hell of ride…. emotionally distressing to see so many cliches abounding after the first chapter. I still haven’t finished yet so I won’t tell you of the plot but rather what stuck in my mind after a few pages.

First, the hero is a MAN, not that it’s bad, or wrong in any way… but he starts off his journey firing… a woman librarian… a mousy, nondescript, middle-aged librarian. Well with Facebook groups like this one and articles like this one, I quote :

“Some wear tattoos, piercings and dress like they belong on the streets of Brooklyn instead of behind bookshelves. They’re also trying on new titles. Instead of librarians, they’re “information specialists” or “information scientists.”

…. We are a long way from our usual stereotypes associated with librarians. But let me go on to what really ticked me.

The author makes a great job by explaining WHY he is firing her: chief amongst the reasons are budget cuts in public and academic libraries and that government officials are more willing to fund a digital library than an actual library with real books and real people behind it. I am very grateful to Mr. Beinhart, author of this novel to have given me this opportunity to remind my readers that even with a magnificent digital library like Europeana or Gallica you always  have librarians, systems administrator, cataloging teams and computer specialists behind it. Although many public libraries are still being threatened by budget and staff cuts, there are many of them that have made the leap from paper to digital to reach out to their users. We should continue to encourage those efforts, in and out of the “brick & mortar” of our libraries.

My morning tea stream

17 Dec

A little excerpt from my daily read content that I found interesting :

Your daily stream about libraries :

The 21st-century librarian (from the NYtimes)

A classic and slightly funnier approach from the Monty Python

Your daily library thingys in images :

Taken from Libraryman’s Flickr Gallery


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