Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Libraries suck at search because books are easy to find.

I keep reading about how libraries have crappy search tools for their catalogs and databases.  And that Google has the best search.  So we need to be more like Google.

What people forget is that with most searches where you find what you want, Google also gives you about 3,000,000 results with shit you don't want.

And Google does what it does because of all the assholes in the world.  Google needs to continually update its algorithms to keep scumbags from jumping to the top of the search results listings.

But those scumbags don't exist in the library.  Mostly.

Take a call number, any call number, and try to find that book in a library.  Unless the book is missing or checked out, it will be exactly where it belongs.  I'm not talking about misshelved books.  All it takes in Dewey is four little numbers to find most library books.

Books don't jockey for better position in the library.
Books don't pretend to be other books.
Books don't change their content without notice.
Books don't make you open other books just so you can read the first book.
Books don't tell other books which books you read.
Books don't magically pop into your hands without your picking them up.
Books don't fuck with other books.

It's the internet that does all that.

So the tools the library uses to locate materials doesn't need to evolve.  That's like saying a teaspoon needs LEDs so you can eat cereal at night.

The real problem is that people don't want to learn to use the library.  Nothing else requires them to learn a damn thing, so why should we. But if you would spend ten minutes, just ten fucking minutes, learning how the library works, that knowledge would would be useful for a lifetime.  Because our shit doesn't change!  811 is always somewhere in between 810 and 812.  It's simple.  But you can't be bothered to learn it.  So you blame the library for being archaic.

Google also has the ability to index all the online stuff because everyone wants it indexed.  Everyone throws their stuff at Google and says, Index Me!

Books don't do that.  But books should.

For the last 10 or 20 years, all publishing has been electronic.  The author either works that way or some assistant digitizes the manuscript so it can be edited and formatted.  So publishers have all this digital stuff that they could use to build an index from their titles.  And then they could make those indices available to book sellers and libraries.  So if you wanted a cherry pie recipe, the local bookseller could just consult the publisher's index to find which books had one and sell them to you.  And libraries could do the same thing.

And then libraries could build their own search tools to sort through all these indices to help patrons find the right books, too.

But publishers don't do this.  Maybe it's too much work, but I doubt it.  The end result would be more books sold if people could find what they want.  Unless the end result would be fewer books because people would see how little of what they wanted was actually published.

So we'll have to rely on Google to do all this indexing.  Some day.

But don't keep trying to compare the library catalog to Google.  It would be great if there were a huge keyword and subject / context database for all the published books, but publishers don't seem to understand why this is necessary.

So libraries don't need Google-like solutions.  Unless Google has that index. 

But one magical day someone might.  And then libraries can fold their holdings into it and make searching for infinitesimal facts within books easier.

But don't say we suck at search when all my library's books are exactly where we put them.  Which is a problem because we'd really rather have them checked out.

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