In the July/August 2012 issue of American Libraries, Karen Coyle writes about the role of libraries on the semantic web, predicting two ways they will play a part. One, library services will “move to the cloud” and allow search engines to list library resources, and two, by intelligently linking data across documents in order to create searchable fields that convey the meaning of information.
In regards to the latter, I am intrigued – XML tags and HTML5 standards will go a long way toward labeling information logically (Coyle gives the example of being able to search for webpages by author), and should produce much faster and more accurate search results.
Regarding the former, I’m not so sure. The article states:
Through the Semantic Web, library data will link to select other data sources in order to provide more value and services for users. Conversely, other users and resources will be able to link to library data, thus making library data discoverable from a variety of points in web space. As information creation moves to the cloud, so will library services, not because libraries create their own cloud but because there will be no separation between libraries and the web.
The evolution toward electronic resources is clear – eBooks are rapidly increasing in popularity, many traditional print resources are offering online versions or converting entirely, and the newest generation of information seekers are digital natives. It is and will be the librarian’s role to accommodate these new electronic information needs, and as such the physical library space will become less prominent than the online services we offer, but I don’t foresee the walls falling away as Coyle suggests.
Historically, libraries have been quite insistent on participating in technological innovation whether the need exists or not. For example, the New York Public Library Facebook page is a perfectly legitimate use of social media in the library. The library has over 65,000 likes and posts interesting or important information that patrons actually respond to. I won’t name any names, but I’m sure most librarians can think of quite a few other libraries which have jumped on the social media bandwagon to very limited success.
The desire to include library results in a Google search seems like much the same issue – librarians want to be innovative and creative and prove the library’s worth (I would personally love it if the databases and periodicals we pay so much for got more use via search engine results), and they forget to think about whether the service being provided is something patrons want. I imagine a Google search including library results would be structured like one with news results:
Would the average searcher see a section labeled ‘Library Results’ and do anything other than skip over it? If the library-related materials were not lumped together, the likelihood of them being used, or indexed high enough on the results list to be visible, are even lower. The question of user-generated links to library resources opens debate for a long list of logistical and legal questions similar to the eBook publishers vs. libraries struggle.
And of course none of this addresses the issue of whether a company like Google would even agree to feature library results, which would be in direct competition with the slew of information services they offer, the most obvious of which being Google Books and Google Scholar.