Better Search: Libraries or Engines?

The Engines win by a landslide, at least according to current college students.

They preferred searching on Google or Yahoo versus their college library systems, based on the attributes of: speed (90%); convenience (84%); ease of use (87%); cost-effectiveness (71%); and reliability (63%). Libraries, however, won on more trustworthy measures including credibility (77%) and accuracy (76%).

While students prefer library sources, they also heavily count on the engines. Over half (53%) say the results from engines are as trustworthy as libraries. Google, Yahoo and Ask all rank about the same, without much differentiation.

And, as for those people sitting behind the library desk, here’s your wake-up call. It turns out that over two-thirds (67%) of students believe that librarians performed either the same as or worse than the engines. Even though librarians were valued and considered helpful, they apparently don’t compare to indices and algorithms.

Interestingly, the survey sponsor is OCLC, a library services organization best known for its worldwide catalog which helps libraries make their holdings more searchable and available to patrons. They contacted several hundred students last year to determine their views on libraries, and recently made the results accessible online.

Of course, the major engines already acknowledge the importance of libraries and their holdings. We see this playing out in myriad initiatives underway, ranging from Google’s Scholar and Books efforts to Microsoft’s think-tank gatherings.

Libraries are still filled with treasure troves, holding everything from special collections to rich databases. Years ago, librarians made progress in providing electronic islands for their patrons. Now, their challenge is to make the holdings as searchable as possible — following their “self-service” patrons into the larger search ecosystems.

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