Speak Softly And Carry A Big Stick

So who is quietly trying to solve your search and discovery problem? Librarians. This week, a new searching mechanism was announced by the OpenLibrary project, with the audacious goal of providing information about every book on the planet. No ordinary catalog here, as OpenLibrary relies on the considered librarianship of everyone who uses or contributes to it.

As usual, librarians are experimenting with access, resources and usability. We’re happy to follow their lead. In this case, it’s digital librarian and archivist Brewster Kahle, who started the Wayback Machine and has been thinking about open access for years. Yet almost no one heard about this effort, and it’s pretty interesting!

Lately, we have seen some mainstream publicity about librarians and their quiet influence. The NYTimes has focused on them in recent weeks — from announcing the impending death of Dewey Decimal to declaring librarians as hipsters. Say what you will about this recent spate of publicity, but these book lovers are notoriously bad at marketing themselves. There are some web sites which aim to help, however, such as Librarian and I Love Libraries.

Librarians have always represented the “uber class” of searchers. They may not tout their achievements as prominently as the pure tech crowd, but they have been pushing web access since before it was even remotely hip. Looking for recommendations, links or more? Your local librarian has probably spent more time unearthing truly meaningful resources than the average techie. It’s too bad that we can’t bottle their vast experience and create the most expert results out there — or maybe there is a way of tapping into their search sorcery.

Ask any student working through a term paper and you’ll find that librarians are a welcome influence when the going gets tough. For those of you who graduated over a decade ago, you’d be amazed at how academic and public libraries have transformed into electronic wonders, open 24/7. Too bad we are blocked from so many of these restricted or deep-web resources.

Where can outsiders see the good stuff? That’s always more challenging. It’s often helpful to follow the trails behind librarians. We’re familiar with Gary Price, from Ask, who also co-manages the excellent ResourceShelf site. Another influential librarian in our search world is Mary Ellen Bates, who offers tips to help her fellow info pros get their bearings. We’re also interested in whatever the American Library Association (ALA) provides, like these monthly recommendations.

Whether individually or collectively, these expert librarians are trying to be helpful. We wish they would speak a little louder — and be heard amidst the overall search cacophony.

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