Posted by: char booth | 5 February 2008

(understandable) ingrained coping behavior.

From the LibraryThing blog via Library Geek Woes, this insightful explanation of everything that is wrong with the world of locating books online:

“You can’t Google a book and find out where in town to get a copy. You can’t Google a book and find out whether your public library has a copy. Your library doesn’t know the author is touring the area. The author doesn’t know which independent bookstores are selling the most copies, and so where to read. Bookstore software is crap and most independent bookstores aren’t online at all. The second-largest US bookstore chain—Borders—is less online that Powell’s! Libraries are absolutely *terrible* online; you will rarely get a library in the first ten pages of a Google search because search engines can’t “see inside” library websites. Library data is largely inaccessible and dominated by an inflexible data monopoly. Book data is mostly from Amazon or from a welter of other companies that don’t or can’t help any but the largest providers. Publisher websites a seldom more than 1990s brochure-ware. Small presses sometimes have good websites, but aren’t included in the book-data game. There’s no online network for authors and agents. There isn’t even a decent “works” system for books—and to the extent there are systems like this, publishers and libraries have completely different systems.” [my emphasis]

As far as I’m concerned, this quote can be extended to information (anti)interoperability and libraries in general. He is absolutely correct about the opacity of our websites, constructed in large part with the goal of restricting access to non-affiliated users and therefore masking the majority of their useful content. The frustrating thing is, you can almost Google a book and find out where in town to get a copy – Google Book’s unassuming “find this item in a library” feature uses Open WorldCat and IP addresses to pinoint local copies of items (similar to the Scholar Library Links program), but like most things library-related the function is buried so deep that you virtually need someone to teach you how to do it. Which, judging from the prevailing wisdom of usability, means that it is woefully inadequate. That said, the option exists, and when I do teach students how to find OU books/articles from a Google search they pick up on it because of its resonance with their searching reality and the fact that the interface makes a lot more sense than our oldschool OPAC or subscription database. Our recent technology survey shows that about 21% of students use Google Scholar, while only 8% use Google Book – this suggests to me that the Book project really hasn’t made its way into the popular consciousness, else more students would be using in lieu of the catalog (despite its significant content restrictions).

An IL class I led yesterday reminded me yet again how insanely difficult it is to teach anyone information search and retrieval skills using library resources – visually speaking, that the options are similar enough to be misleading in terms of content and distinct enough to prevent easy transference of skills is a true frustration. The more I teach undergrads the more I can get behind the idea forwarded in the recent CIBER paper that the “ingrained coping behaviour” of default Google searching apparent in many students becomes difficult to counter by the time they reach college, the very point when information literacy instruction typically begins in earnest. Most practical library instruction seems to spend a necessarily disproportionate amount of time explaining of the range, breadth, and function of ultra-similar resources (use this for that and this for this other thing), which does more to reinforce the way students (mis)understanding of how the web works than to counter it. It also has the effect of reducing the amount of time we are able to spend teaching users how to critically examine information, the crucial aspect of media and information literacy education – the CIBER report affirms young people’s “fail[ure] to evaluate sources” as a confirmable skills gap in the sea of incorrect assumptions about the “Google generation”[23]. The aggregation of poor communication between resources, too many options, and unnecessary and confusing information architecture exposed to users amounts to a simple, overwhelming turnoff.


Responses

  1. I❤ Tim Spalding.


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