Privacy vs Social Networks
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Call a Librarian?

New York Times

This is a genuinely extraordinary story from the New York Times

When a Search Engine Isn’t Enough, Call a Librarian

RIS TUCKERMAN, a reference librarian at the Rockville Regional Library in Washington's Maryland suburbs, was answering questions from users of the library's live Internet chat service recently when a inquiry arrived about Ross Perot.

"What's the name of the party that Ross Perot established?" a user wanted to know.

Ms. Tuckerman checked the Internet for a biography of Mr. Perot. Then she quickly switched to an electronic database of biographies to which the library subscribes. But even after scrolling through several screens of text, she was unable to come up with a satisfactory answer.

So she turned to a rotating bookshelf next to her desk and selected a volume of the World Book Encyclopedia. "Sometimes the old-fashioned sources work the best," she said. Within a few minutes she found the answer in the encyclopedia: the Reform Party.

In all, answering the question took nearly 10 minutes, partly because of the back-and-forth exchange over the Internet chat service. "Maybe they could have found the answer faster on Google, but who knows if it would be right?" Ms. Tuckerman said. "It's not that I don't like Google, but we're the information experts."

Trouble is... Ms Tuckerman isn't an information expert. Nothing close.

Try typing this into Google: "Ross Perot" political party

Surprise, surprise. The top 5 hits all give you the right answer. (It was the Reform Party). Acording to Google, the search took 0.24 seconds. As opposed to, say, 10 minutes...

A few lines down the page is a direct link to The Reform Party's 2004 website. My guess is that our so called Information Expert wouldn't have found that in a hurry...

I sympathise with Librarians feeling threatened. They have good cause to feel threatened. Their jobs are going to disappear.

And no amount of re-invention is likely to help them. They aren't going to succeed in re-branding themselves as "information experts" because, not to put too fine a point on it, they won't cut it.

Now that they don't "own" all the information resources, their role as the gatekeeper is gone.

If information managment is really their career of choice then they need to look at either moving into Education or ICT.

If what they really want is silence and catalogues, then perhaps they could look at Stamp Collecting.

There is always a silver lining to these stories. And The Shifted Librarian has her usual positive take on the subject. But she sounds increasingly like the lost prophet of her generation wondering why her disciples don't get it. I'd Shift careers if I was her. Too much talent to throw after a dying profession.

The Industrial Revolution saw plenty of people trying in vain to hold onto their jobs in the face of massing technology. It's all there in the history books....

Back shelf. Getting dusty.

Pull them down. Have a read.

Follow me on Twitter: @IanYorston

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