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Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again

01 Jul
Image of a girl kicking one of the 'o's in Google

This = futile. (Flickr CC image by Cayusa)

I’m a huge fan of Phil Bradley, and a recent very eloquently written post of his added to the canon of information professionals who have compared Google unfavourably with What We Do. However, I’d really be very happy not to read any more such comparisons hereafter. Here’s five reasons off the top of my head

  1. It’s not a fight we will ever win. Ever. Unwinnable fight = this.
  2. However valid our arguments are for libraries or librarians being ‘better’ than Google, we are not powerful or loud enough for them to stick. It’d be like a minor royal saying he’d be better on the throne than the Queen – that may well be, but no one is listening and in any case, it’s the frigging Queen. She is literally bolted down onto the throne.
  3. It’s really hard to become popular by slagging something else off. You have to be really likeable to make this approach work; it reminds people too much of politicians who only ever talk about how bad the opposition party is. From a marketing point of view, librarians saying Google is bad is a disaster, because everyone loves Google – it’d be like goldfish trying to make a comeback as a popular pet with a ‘Kittens are bastards’ campaign.
  4. It’s hypocritical. Lots of librarians love Google. I love it – I use it every single day almost a bajillion times. I use it for work, in my library. I know some people don’t love it and use Bing etc, but really there isn’t a web user in the world who doesn’t get some kind of good use out of search engines.
  5. See number 1, again.
    .

All we can do is help people to use it better, and emphasise that we provide access to information which Google cannot find. To step up to Google and try and compete for the same market is a waste of energy.

-   thewikiman

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Comments
  • Ned Potter July 1, 2011 at 1:46 PM

    From the blog: Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again http://t.co/7aiJmKw :-)

  • Bobbi Newman July 1, 2011 at 1:50 PM

    Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again http://t.co/7aiJmKw :-) /via @theREALwikiman

  • Karen Blakeman July 1, 2011 at 1:55 PM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again http://bit.ly/j2zVkY :-)

  • J. Smith July 1, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    RT @librarianbyday: Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again http://t.co/7aiJmKw :-)…

  • Barrie Robertson July 1, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    ‘Kittens are bastards’, maybe not kittens, but cats certainly! #lovedogs Forget get Google vs Libraries @theREALwikiman http://t.co/CehCDfj

  • Lane Wilkinson July 1, 2011 at 2:11 PM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again http://t.co/ocaQy4k

  • Troy Swanson July 1, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again http://t.co/ocaQy4k

  • Kathy Kaldenberg July 1, 2011 at 2:22 PM

    RT @theREALwikiman: Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again http://t.co/ocaQy4k

  • Simon Barron July 1, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    Speaking of which, excellent post by @therealwikiman: Don't compare Google with libraries! http://ow.ly/5uOtT

  • thewikiman July 1, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    I do want to stress that this post isn’t a pop at Phil – he just happens to have been the most recent person to make the comparison! It’s been a culmination of several anti-Google library things really: particularly a poster at SLA2011 from someone at, I think it was Yale or somewhere I’d expect to be looking forward a bit more, whose author was collecting examples of things librarians can do better than Google. There’s loads, but you can’t convince students not to use Google! And also we were discussing various adverts for libraries, in a marketing workshop I recently attended at CILIP, along the lines of “The library is better than Google” etc.

    So it’s all that stuff coming to a head, really. :)

  • Bobbi Newman (@librarianbyday) July 1, 2011 at 2:50 PM

    Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again http://t.co/7aiJmKw :-) /via @theREALwikiman

  • Jessica Olin (@olinj) July 1, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    It’s like the fight against Wikipedia. The students in my college are going to use Google, are going to use Wikipedia. Yes, I am a human and therefore able to distinguish between different meanings of a word more easily… [blah, blah, blah]. I’d rather teach them HOW to use it than try to fight a losing battle to keep them from using it.

  • Nicola Franklin July 1, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    I think we should, instead, be addressing (2) above – as really librarians are the ‘proper royalty’ with the heritage, the traditions… It’s just that (rather like the queen over Diana-gate) librarians seriously messed up their PR and media relations over the past 20 years (longer?) and somewhere along the line the public perception switched from “librarian = erudite, helpful, knowledgeable person who can help me learn” to “librarian = awful dragon in a bun saying shush and making the library hell to be in”.

    Rather than wasting time and energy pointing fingers and saying ‘it’s their fault this happened’, or ‘the public/government/etc just don’t understand what we do’, we should all be doing our best to counter this perception and make the librarian voice much more ‘powerful and loud’ as you put it.

    I think Phil’s wonderfully worded post could in fact be part of that, if it were used as part of an advocacy campaign – since it has a lot more of ‘why librarians are great’ and not so much of ‘slagging off’ Google in it =) It would make a great infographic or poster – any creative, designer-types out there?

  • thewikiman July 1, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    Yes Jessica! This.

  • thewikiman July 1, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    Nicola – yeah, I meant it when I said the whole post wasn’t about Phil’s post, I’ve seen a lot of stuff where librarians ARE all about slagging off Google, though.

    But the Queen example was just a random one of anything where the validity of an argument is completely and utterly transcended by the power, status, voice, market position etc of the organisation or person you’re fighting. It’s like a nicer cola drink than coke trying to take on coke by saying, boo coke is bad, we’re better! Doesn’t matter how nice it is, never gonna happen.

  • thewikiman July 1, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    Terry Kendrick said a great thing in the marketing workshop – that the best hope for libraries is to inspire use. I’m no psychologist but I’d wager it’s a difficult thing to inspire people with negative comparisons. Saying X is bad, Y is better is a hard sell on the inspiration front, unless X is reaaaally really bad in a way everyone can get behind. And Google is fine – it’s gets most people where they want to go.

    Let’s find a way to promote libraries that doesn’t pit it against an unconquerable foe.

  • Debby Raven July 1, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    Nicola I think it’s the public that changed. People no longer like erudite, knowledgeable.
    I don’t like kittens.
    Now back to Tsonga.

  • Buffy Hamilton July 1, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    From the blog: Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again http://t.co/7aiJmKw :-)

  • Amber Mussman July 1, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    From the blog: Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again http://t.co/7aiJmKw :-)

  • Phil Bradley July 1, 2011 at 8:07 PM

    No worries Ned, no offence taken. I am however going to disagree with you a fair amount, which should be fun for both of us! :)

    1. No, it’s not a fight we can win. However, it’s important to continue to make people aware that Google has many faults, not because it’s a battle, but because it’s a fact. Every time someone talks about how wonderful Big G is (and yes, it is!), we do need to point out the fundamental problems with it. If we’re to provide good, solid and impartial information that’s part of our day to day job.

    2. No, we may not be able to make this stick with the general public, but we should be able to point this out to our own users/clients/colleagues. Simply because we can’t change the world doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and change our own corner of it.

    3. I agree, we shouldn’t slag off Google for the sake of it. However, there are many basic flaws with Google – no authority, limited data, lack of consistency – the list goes on. Librarians should know Google well enough to point out other resources when they are superior to Google. We are specialists in what we do – or we should be – and it is our role, dare I say duty, to provide users with the best options and alternatives. To do anything less than that in order to curry favour and to be seen as popular isn’t, IMO, a professional approach.

    4. You’ve got a basic contradiction here. You talk first about Google, and that then transforms into ‘search engines’. A good information professional WILL use Google, but they will also use a variety of other search engines – that’s one of the things that makes use professionals. The best resource to answer the question. It’s not hypocritical to use Google, but to *only* use Google for search is unprofessional, IMO.

    5. I’m not looking to win this fight. I’m looking to ensure that people understand basic flaws and drawbacks. If they chose to use Google that’s fine, but let’s make it something that they choose to do while being aware of the advantages and disadvantages of that search engine.

    I’d like to see posters in libraries suggesting different engines. I’d like everyone to think ‘what’s the best engine to use’ rather than ‘how shall I search in Google’. I’d particularly like people to think – and to get their users to think ‘what’s the best possible resource to use’. Many of course already do – this is a general comment. This means that we DO have to make comparisons, between us, Google, other search engines and other resources. It’s one of our jobs.

  • Fiona Forsythe July 1, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    There are many battles – big and small. My cry is ‘watch out for falling for ‘spoapbox’ politics – or as my boss used to say ‘It was the mice who killed the dinosaurs’ – meaning sometimes it is the, seemingly unimportant, little things which cause the most damage. This is a useful and interesting debate to have (whether it is what to debate, whether we should debate, how to debate…) But please, please remember that sometimes the most powerful arguments are the stories we tell – the example of when a librarian made a difference, when a librarian demonstrated their role, when a librarian demonstrated different search engines which made a real difference to a client …. yes – when Libraries Change(d) Lives. (Seems sort of topical as we approach Umbrella!) :)

  • thewikiman July 1, 2011 at 10:17 PM

    Ah Phil, you make some good points – I was afraid of that! :)

    I think what it comes down to is, all your points apply to our day to day role as information professionals, and all my points apply to the way we present and market ourselves to the outside world (and each other). So I agree with you in basically all that you say – but I also think the public declarations of libraries’ or librarians’ superiority to Google are unproductive and probably back fire more often than not when patrons or potential patrons see them.

    Re: point 4, I threw ‘search engine’ in there because I think the reason Google is the big ‘rival’ librarians want to dethrone is simply because it is the market leader, rather than because of its specific characteristics. If Bing ever overhauls it the same messages will be redirected at that instead. I realise that when you personally talk about Google you are not using it as a shorthand for ‘all the leading search engines’ but you’re an expert in this area in a way 99.9% of librarians are not…

    I really like your last (unnumbered point) particularly and I can see that we do have to make comparisons in order to serve the people we should be serving. I just don’t want to see this seeping into general library advocacy or specific library marketing.

    But helping people make an informed choice is definitely FTW. (Civilised argument FTW too.) :)

  • Sarah Stamford July 1, 2011 at 10:19 PM

    Surely librarians are more than just animated search engines?

  • Ned Potter July 2, 2011 at 9:42 AM

    Some good comment debate! On: Why I’d happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again – http://t.co/eSMsOH3

  • Dave Pattern July 2, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    @lukelibrarian To be fair, Ned wasn't ranting http://bit.ly/l0G0vM

  • Paul Stainthorp July 2, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    Bookmarked: Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again: http://lncn.eu/de8 #fb

  • Paul Gahan July 3, 2011 at 11:31 AM

    You only have to look at services like Yahoo Answers & any of the countless specialist forums on the web to realise how often people fail to find the information they need from Google. Perhaps more worrying than their preference for Google is the fact that when it fails them they turn to something like Yahoo Answers rather than contacting their local library. One of the ways public libraries have responded to this state of affairs is by the PN Enquire 24/7 information cooperative registering as a Knowledge Partner with Yahoo Answers: http://yhoo.it/iyOpnD
    As well as giving librarians the opportunity demonstrate their abilities on a very public platform it also provides an excellent plug for the Enquire service itself. We currently have a 79% ‘Best Answer’ rating.

  • Top 10 Links 2.26 | Librarian by Day July 3, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    [...] Also read Net Potters thoughts on Google vs Librarians  Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again [...]

  • CILIP July 4, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between #Google & #Libraries ever again by @theREALwikiman http://ow.ly/5w1O9

  • Mylee Joseph July 4, 2011 at 11:01 AM

    Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again – http://t.co/UkwG0tY from @theREALwikiman

  • thewikiman July 4, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    Paul, that’s a very good point – I never use Yahoo Answers but that’s because I use Twitter for the same thing.

    I don’t think it’s realistic to expect people to contact their local library when Google fails them – I certainly never would. For that to happen we’d need a world-wide “you can just ask us stuff” advertising campaign or something… We just need to be where people already are, and answer their questions in situ (and brand our answers as librarian answers) – so on Twitter, on yahoo answers, on facebook etc etc. The PN Eqnuire thing is absolutely bang on the money.

  • Lukas Koster July 4, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again – http://t.co/UkwG0tY from @theREALwikiman

  • Moira July 4, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between #Google & #Libraries ever again by @theREALwikiman http://ow.ly/5w1O9

  • ZA Addyman (@Zaddyman) July 5, 2011 at 3:36 PM

    Another superb post from the @theREALwikiman about comparing Google to libraries – http://t.co/S7Hg6K3

  • Library Web July 5, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    For an in depth analysis and as a starting point, A Guide to Library Research Methods, Thomas Mann, has a chapter on the subject of electronic search, its strengths, but also very considerable weaknesses. (I will be giving all librarians I meet a detailed 3 hour examination on this, so be prepared ;)

    The other salient point I think is that, in the UK at least, legislation wise, the libraries should not seek to duplicate commercial services (if I remember this correctly) – so librarians should factor in what they need to do for the public, rather than trying to compete with what is already available.

  • Terry Kendrick July 5, 2011 at 8:36 PM

    This is an important discussion. Librarians have value but so often go into denial and defensiveness rather than offer a dignified evidence based marketing approach. Denial and defensiveness are two characteristics which will almost certainly mean we (I still say “we” even after not having worked in a library since 1987!) will look silly in comparison to the GreatGoog. It is absolutely undeniable for most GENERAL quick queries that Google (Bing and Yahoo too) are likely to have a better “offer” than a librarian. To suggest otherwise is to go not just against popular feeling but any sense of logic or reality.

    Ned’s point is about marketing and the general zeitgeist, Phil’s point is about what CAN happen (not what happens 99.9% of the time). Phil is not a marketer but rather an internet whiz. Ned and Phil will come from different angles on this and probably have different agendas. Both make good points in their own way.

    Librarians should pick battles they can win though. Losing this one will , at best, only get a librarian sympathy, not respect. At worst it will mean that if the response from the potential user is “ I don’t believe you, Google is great” then every other marketing message you send them will be met by the subconscious “ The last message a librarian set me I KNOW not to be true so I am not going to listen to this one”. We are influenced by our experience.

    The point about quality resources is a red herring. I could show you as many howlers in books as in sources found by Google. We are in the midst of an era where source of authority is being redefined … this is bad sometimes but sometimes good. Who decides? A librarian?

    Phil is right about Google having faults. But for most people this is sophistry. Ned’s instincts are good here. Don’t compare unless you are absolutely right and the faults are in the characteristics about Google that really really matter to people. Pointing at one or two misleading Wikipedia articles or an invisible web search on some really obscure topic is unlikely to grab the attention of anyone except a few members of our library constituency. Now, there is a time to compare but it is a very specific occasion for a very specific reader …. not as part of a general library marketing message. To do so is not just a waste of time but potentially disastrous.

    I’d add that if you want to market the library get lots of positive testimonials that you are great and get them out there in the blogoshere . After all, that’s what Google has done. No massive advertising spend just convincing people to tell other people that it’s the best …based on consistent and convenient search results. To the point where anyone using Yahoo or Bing is seen as relatively unprofessional and would be frightened to be seen using it! THAT’s marketing. Phil or I would tell you that Yahoo and Bing are worth using too but most people really do not need to know that. In the fight for attention librarians are going to have to do better than that.

    And the scary message? We’re going to have to market the librarian not the library service. It’s personal. Scared? Get over it. Or get out of Ned’s way.

    Terry

  • Joanne Pilkington July 13, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    I think constantly trying to prove that we are better than any web service makes us look like we’re scared luddites desperately trying to not get replaced by a machine. Embracing the use of it into library services is all part of evolution. And the rule is evolve or die, not fight to get the old environment back.

  • [...] Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again (thewikiman) ‘i’m a huge fan of Phil Bradley, and a recent very eloquently written post of his added to the canon of information professionals who have compared Google unfavourably with What We Do. However, I’d really be very happy not to read any more such comparisons hereafter. Here’s five reasons off the top of my headIt’s not a fight we will ever win. Ever. Unwinnable fight = this.’ [...]

  • [...] Why I’d quite happily never read another comparison between Google and Libraries ever again (thewikiman) ‘i’m a huge fan of Phil Bradley, and a recent very eloquently written post of his added to the canon of information professionals who have compared Google unfavourably with What We Do. However, I’d really be very happy not to read any more such comparisons hereafter. Here’s five reasons off the top of my headIt’s not a fight we will ever win. Ever. Unwinnable fight = this.’ [...]

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