I was reading Ned Potter’s post about being happy to never read another Google/library comparison again and it reminded me of something I had realized awhile back.
I used to wonder and worry about Google. How much of their work intrudes on the mission of libraries? What does it mean for the future of public libraries? Will I have a job in twenty years? Will technology and Google become so ubiquitous that the public library will be relegated to a niche support role in society? I’d lay in bed at night, unable to shut down my brain from this death spiral of thinking. But then I came to my own realization.
Libraries are not in competition with Google. Google is a tool. You do not get into fights with the equipment you use. That is like challenging a hammer to a nail pounding fight. It lets us look up the easy stuff faster so we can move onto the harder stuff. Who at a service desk wouldn’t want a tool like that? Librarians have dreamed about something that could put ready reference at one’s fingertips. Now that we have it, there is a perception of a threat. What gives?
Consider this thought: whether it knows it or not, Google wants public libraries. No, scratch that: it needs public libraries. We are the de facto in person customer support for Google. Public libraries are well positioned all over the US, staffed by friendly knowledgeable folks, and Google doesn’t have to pay our salaries. You think they want to get the customer service calls we get? That’s a negative.
Given the amount of internet service provided to the population, the continuation of the public library is in the best interests of any internet company that relies on the activity of its users to generate its revenue streams: Facebook, Twitter, Huffington Post, Big Government, every news or magazine or other site that relies on sharing to get its word out. I think there is a viable national scale advocacy effort in this as well. The existence of the public libraries allows people to use their services; as their services work around straight advertising and data mining, the less people with access to the internet means smaller data sets overall. I could make the connection to smaller revenues, but I don’t think it has an immediate cause-and-effect relationship since it is a matter of how that data is used.
Bottom line: Google (and other companies) are not competition for public libraries; they are tools to be used by libraries in the service of their communities. And they still need libraries.
(The same thing can be said for Wikipedia as I see it.)
What do you think? Is Google a threat? Or a tool? Or both?
This is an open(ish) thread. You can answer this thought or start your own.