Is it really Google?

Tennessee has a purchasing consortium called Tenn-Share, and every year, Tenn-Share hosts a “DataFest”. The DataFest is a day-long gathering of librarians from around the state, and from all types of librarians. Various database vendors are invited to show off their products, and it’s always an interesting day. This year, several of the vendors contacted me to meet with me personally before the DataFest, which is fine. But in those meetings and at the DataFest itself, I heard vendors say things about how Google has caused everyone to want that single search box on the screen. And it hit me that I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I think what Google has done is made searching easy. And *that’s* what people want.

Google wasn’t the one who made people want easy searching, but it was probably the catalyst that made people realize that’s what they wanted. Previously, to find good, reliable information you had to know a librarian who could search DIALOG for you. Then came the internet and online databases. Wow! All that information! But you still couldn’t find what you were looking for. So back to the library for the librarian who could search the database. Vendors didn’t feel pressure to make their interfaces more user-friendly because patrons weren’t actually using them. Librarians, with their specialized training, were. With the further advent of the internet and online databases, more and more patrons can get to more and more databases from *outside* the library. This means there is no friendly neighborhood librarian to help them out when they get stuck. So the librarians get more comments about how people can’t find anything, which are passed on to the vendors. And voila! Vendors are talking about how people want Google-like interfaces for their databases.

Well, of course they do! Patrons don’t want to search! They want to *find* the information they are looking for and move on. Librarians are the ones who enjoy the hunt (and not even all of them do). So it’s not really Google’s fault that people want thing simpler and more user friendly. It just so happens that Google *is* simple and user friendly. And really good at giving people what they want. It’s the competition from Google for information sources that has caused the vendors to play catch-up with all the web services that have been around for a while.

Database interfaces are now morphing into simpler, more easily understood things. And they’re offering RSS feeds and email and exporting features that people are (hopefully) making good use of! Grandted, for some of those features, you still may want a librarian’s help, but patrons are less intimidated by the initial screen.

I’m happy to see the 2.0 versions of search interfaces from database vendors. My questions is…..when is the ILS going to follow? I know there are these new “discovery tools” that are supposed to “lay on top of” the existing ILS. And they’re nice. But they really don’t solve the underlying problems of many ILSs. Searching is still difficult, LCSH are still weird, and there aren’t as many interactive features that would be very helpful for some people.

I guess maybe the ILSs will catch up with “web 2.0” when “web 3.0” hits 🙂

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