Too many clicks

How much does a click cost? How much are you prepared to pay per click? What is your information worth?

Public librarians find ourselves with a dilemma: do we continue to pay for expensive information databases that don’t get used despite consistent, clever and targeted promotion? As information specialists we appreciate the value of these types of information resources, but our customers don’t seem to be easily converted.

I feel treasonous to my profession by even asking this question. At a recent meeting of librarians who work in public libraries to discuss this topic, this question did not even arise. The academic peer-reviewed scholarly articles that are stored in these locked databases and therefore not freely available on the internet are gold, in the view of librarians and academics, and therefore beyond question.

People doing formal study have access to hundreds and thousands of these databases through the libraries of their tertiary education institutions. Victorian residents also have access to hundreds of these databases freely via the State Library of Victoria with a free membership.

To access one of these information databases as a public library member all you need do is have a current library membership, go to the library website, find the webpage where the online databases are located, select the database you want, put in your membership details, then hopefully you will arrive at the search screen (but not always – there may be a few more clicks yet). The search screen is often unlike a well-known Google key word search box; you may have to think a little to put a sensible search together. In regards to Boolean searching, Librarians know that Google assumes “and” when putting in keywords while most information databases don’t so you will need to add your own “and” “or” or “not”.

OR you can go to Google and put in the key words and cross your fingers. So ONE click compared to a likely minimum of FIVE. And many of these information databases are slow to load so you also have to wait.

Ask most librarians how they search online and many will say that depending on what they are searching for, they might first go to their own library catalogue, then Google, maybe Wikipedia, (or vice versa),and then delve deeper into the information databases once they have defined the information needs fully and if it is required by the customer.

There are a few information databases that the public customer does ask for and get real value from and these are Ancestry for family history research and perhaps a newspaper archive such as Newsbank. There are also some really great free information databases available online such as Picture Australia, the Better Health Channel, Law 4 Community, the Internet Movie Database, and dare I say Wikipedia.

So as a member of a public library what do you think? What do you want? Are these expensive but valuable specialist information databases a necessary resource that public libraries should be buying and offering with your free membership? Or are you happy Googling away, taking your chances with information that needs verification? Where should we be spending the public funds responsibly?

Big Brother

I have recently read a couple of interesting articles about privacy on the internet. Two of these were marking the 10th anniversary of Google. ‘Big friendly giant…or big brother?’ by David smith was published in the Age’s Good Weekend magazine on 13th September 2008. Here is his blog about the article. It was reported that Google “harvest more of our secrets than any totalitarian government”, and that “they have amassed more information about people in 10 years than all of the governments of the world put together.” Scary thoughts. But Larry Page and Sergey Brin who founded Google in September of 1998 instill this daily reminder into their employees – ‘Don’t be evil’. Their mission is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

I then read the article ‘Facebook and the social dynamics of privacy’ by James Grimmelmann. The Grimmelmann article reports that “A 2006 survey of Facebook users found that 77% of them have never read its privacy policy.” And that “later regret about initial openness is an especially serious problem for the most active social network site users: young people.

I think that the difference between using Facebook and using Google is that in general people don’t realise that Google are farming your personal details, whereas with Facebook personal information is voluntarily and knowingly provided by the users.

I am an avid user of Google’s tools and use Gmail, Google Reader, Google Maps and Street View, YouTube, Google Books and Google Docs as well as being my first port of call for any web search. And I love Facebook. What a clever interface designed by the young Mark Zuckerberg. It pulls in many of the tools used by web-users and offers them up on the same website. Users can communicate with their friends via chat, email, posts, and share images, videos, games, and links. Users can join groups where their interests lie. It really is an amazing and addictive piece of software. But it is public and therein lays the problems. Where is the protection from predators, or future employers, or friends who are no longer friends, or identity frauds? Many people seem to be unaware of the dangers and often believe that there is ‘safety in numbers’. But in this era “connectedness is social currency”, so what can we do? Be aware I suppose. Read the small print. Be mindful of what you put on there. Self censor. Is it possible to do that and still have fun? “Our social lives are infinitely richer than any controlled vocabulary [labels to describe] can comprehend.”