There is a sad piece in the Wall Street Journal today about the demise of librarians and university programs in library science, In the Age of Google, Librarians Get Shelved.
People trained to run computers do not have the training to gather facts the way librarians do. I count as a loss the presence of libraries with I.T. help desks instead of librarians
Not that a good professional investigator is the same as a reference librarian. Part of what we do is to pick up a phone or travel to interview people to get information that is not written down.
Still, most of the time the first step is to do a lot of reading of documents, and we ask ourselves some of the same questions a good reference librarian would ask. And while it’s true that Google searching reduces the need for elementary help on different kinds of research, we are firm believers that Google does not replace the connections made by an alert human mind. The main reasons are:
- Google is a business and promotes links that make money rather than links that may be useful to you. Sometimes that works if your interests are aligned with Google’s, and sometimes it doesn’t.
- Much of the world’s information is not on Google. Most court documents in the U.S., for instance, have never been scanned and made available on the internet. Of those that have been scanned, many are not keyword searchable via Google: you have to know from Google on which sites to do your keyword search.
- No database is good at talking to other databases. If major hospitals in the U.S. can’t get their dozen different computer systems to talk to one another, how is the entire world supposed to get sufficient information into the right format for Google to be able to spit it out in a fraction of a second?
The mistake librarians made was to call what they did a science. Fact investigation is as much art as science for the simple reason that you can’t look everywhere and read everything you find. There are dozens or hundreds of educated guesses involved in good investigation, as I write in my forthcoming book The Art of Fact Investigation, reviewed by Kirkus here.
Pity the librarians who can’t get work, but pity too the people who think that Google is all the help they need to get sufficient information for any but the most mundane inquiries.