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Some of These Things Are Not Like the Others
August 12, 2010 - 7:30pm

Librarians have a love/hate relationship with Google. We are just as prone as any mortal to wonder what on earth we did without it. We use Google tools daily and show students how to use features they may not have discovered. Many of us have gmail and Google Reader accounts. Some of us are paralyzed when Google Calendar takes a nap. We aren't sure where we're supposed to be, so we are tempted to take a nap, too.

We resent the apparent simplicity the Google search engine offers and bite our tongues when students roll their eyes at our databases and wonder aloud why we don't just have one box to search everything at once, like Google; did we ever think of that? Some of us did, but it still isn't as simple as Google.

Some of us let Google digitize our collections under a cloak of secrecy until the right media moment arrived. Some of us felt betrayed when Google decided not to pursue a more generous definition of fair use, but instead hammered out a proposed settlement with publishers and set out to become a bookseller instead of a library. Most of us were confused when Google decided that the principle of net neutrality had loopholes when it came to wireless access.

Rather than try to figure that one out, I offer instead a few simple ways in which we are alike and different.

Ways libraries are like Google

Both have as their mission to organize and make the world's information accessible.
Both make it possible to get digital information no matter where you are and even if you're still in your jammies.
Both have books, articles, videos, music, images, and other materials from all time periods.
Both offer tools to help you focus and narrow a search that most users ignore.
Both have blogs.
Both experiment with new technologies.
Both launch uber-cool technologies that, it turns out, nobody actually wants.
Both can be a huge time saver and a huge time waster, often on the very same day.
Both have good information and lots of information that is outdated, useless, incorrect, and biased.

Ways libraries are not like Google

Libraries protect your privacy.
Libraries don’t want to “improve your advertising experience.”
Libraries would object if a publisher came into the library and removed or altered their books.
Libraries want to stretch fair use so it’s in good shape, but not so far as to bring on a lawsuit; most libraries can’t afford to be sued.
Libraries know they can’t provide all information, much as they would like to.
Libraries need to satisfy local stakeholders, not shareholders.
Libraries will tell you how many books they have in their collections.
Libraries will answer questions over the phone.
Libraries will tell you what they’re working on.


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