Here's a little report back from the Google and Libraries conference I attended on Monday. The conference was organized to be part of ILIAC (International Library Information and Analytical Center)'s Tenth International Workshop: "Digital Resources and International Information Exchange: East-West." It was held at Columbia University on Monday, March 10, 2008.
ILIAC was "set up with the goal to contribute to the development of educational, scientific, cultural and business cooperation between Russia and CIS countries, and the USA and other developed countries." The keynote speaker, Yakov Shraiberg and 20 or 30 of the attendees were with the delegation, and the other 90+ participants were just regular old people who signed up via METRO, lured I imagine by the three American presenters library practitioner and scholar Jill Cirasella, librarian turned fair use lawyer Laura Quilter, and Daily Show guest and media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan.
Here are my notes
- Google only just recently cracked the top three search engines in Russia. It trails Yandex (favored by users aged 20-30) and Rambler (30+ year olds).
- I couldn't tell whether Shraiberg said that everything in Russian libraries is open source or none of it, or if perhaps he was interpreting the phrase differently. It would be nice of course if it's the former, but even if it's the latter, at this stage of development, I bet open source has a good chance to make some inroads.
- Overall, I think in some ways relatively unknown Jill was the real star of the day with her practical how I use Google resources presentation that was particularly useful I imagine to the Russian/CIS librarians who, according to the statistic above, may not have much experience with the big G. I described her before as a practitioner and scholar because I think she exemplifies the pro argument of librarians having faculty status. Her presentation, and others I've seen her do, show that her thinking about library/information issues is of the academy, but that she also applies her knowledge regularly at the reference desk and in other library user interactions.
- She posited that Google (or whatever search engine one employs) has become a partner in the reference interview. As the librarian and patron search together, Google itself helps refine the initial question by its "Did you mean to spell it this way?" queries and its suggested links to other media (images, news, etc.)
- She also stated that because users are comfortable with Google, seeing you search it once puts them at ease and smooths the way for your showing them other tools.
- She quickly demo'd Google Sets and Suggest, which she loves, but personally I'm not all that jazzed about. Apparently her patrons are into them, though.
- Jill is a gushing fan of Clay Shirky's Ontology is Overrated article. I forget why I'm a little cold to Shirky. It might just be that he's another male non-librarian that librarians all seem to love, and I'm so contrary that I have to question that love. But I swear, I was at some presentation he gave, and got legitimately annoyed with something he said. It will come back to me...
- Jill is just as crazy for Michael Wesch's Information R/evolution, which she showed.
- My notes were so bad that I'm not sure when Laura took over with her presentation on Google Books and copyright issues. So I'm arbitrarily picking this point here.
- While I'm not really on the subject of commonalities between the three American speakers, they all have varying degrees of wariness about using Google tools, they have also all "drunk the Kool-Aid," as Jill put it in her denial that she has gone entirely over the deep end for G. They are all critical users, but users and personal data suppliers nonetheless.
- Whichever one of them it was talked about using tagging for discovery and controlled vocabulary to get you the rest of the way there.
- I really liked the observation that (I know I'm not getting this right; I didn't jot down the context, damn me!) many Google searches result in quantity, rather than quality.
- Definitely Laura now talked about LibraryThing's very brief (like three days) linking to Google Books and how they had to cease and desist (although not in those words--Laura please clarify if I'm messing this up!).
- I asked Laura what to think of the Open Content Alliance's alliance between good (Internet Archive) and evil (Microsoft). Basically it sounds like Microsoft is providing funding, just to compete with Google, but theyr'e not fucking with the process or tools at all.
- I'm pretty sure this is where Siva took over, as my note refers to "writing as part of a community," with has to do with how he's blogging his next book, The Googlization of Everything
- He talked about how he used Google Books to get information about his now book editor, searching the resource for her name and "thanks." In the past, finding out who edited what book was perhaps impossible to do.
- One of his slides had a Goolag image (not that one). I hadn't heard of it before. It's about "exporting censorship, one search at a time," responding to Google's China policy.
- Siva's main point, I think was about how its users are Google's product, not its customer. All of the data they are gathering about us is ultimately to benefit (though not to our knowledge be given to) its advertisers. Making the search and other features work well is primarily to get us to like their product and continue to feed it.
- He also talked about the inherent privilege/bias of Google, based on those who are contributing internet content: think about who has greater access to computers and greater knowledge, ability, and motivation to use the media to create all the stuff that is retrieved as a result of a search. (It's not like this is so different in the rest of the media, but people don't necessarily view the mainstream news as a great equalizer the way they do online content, or the "myth of neutrality," as Siva put it.)
- Google ranks and links, rather than organizes information.
I know I've given short shrift to the Shraiberg and the Russians. It was interesting to hear about where they're at, Google-wise and with their digitization projects in Russia and the CIS, but that was first thing in the morning on the first Monday of spring forward, okay?
Okay. That's all I've got, except that while praising Jill, I forgot to also laud Laura and Siva, who are both brilliant people and great speakers. And while I'm giving credit, I also think it's important to nod to Mitch Freedman (aka "Dad"), who organized the conference. I love that he forwent the panel presentation model and let each speaker have lots of time to talk and answer questions. I think this was very satisfying for the audience and the presenters.