Sunday, November 1, 2009

How Google can save my ass.

I need Google to index the full text articles in our electronic databases and make them searchable on the Internet.

I don't think anyone can get the vendors like Gale, ProQuest, HW Wilson, Ebsco, etc., to agree to allow their content to be available online for everyone to see. It's not going to happen if we just wait for it. So I don't care how Google does it. But that's what I want.

I want Google to create a free, open federated search product for paid-content, proprietary databases.

Libraries have been saying for years that only we have access to the "invisible web." Libraries pay for access to a huge variety of databases whose contents are only available through some form of approved access: library card, ID, proxy, IP authentication.

But people don't give a shit about the invisible web. Because it's invisible, duh. And people don't go searching for stuff that most people can't see. At least not normal people. Not people not in a Dan Brown novel.

I know that does something like this, but WorldCat only returns physical holdings, not access to specific articles in every database. So I want Google to do it. (Or Bing, I don't have a real preference.)

We've already lost the war to all the idiots who can't find anything without Google. And Google is in the best position to do whatever the hell it wants without any fear of the consequences.

So that's what I want: I want Google to index our databases.

Just like with Google Books, the content will be available in snippets in the googlestream. If the publisher/vendor does not want the content available, then that's all you get. Under the snip is a link to a library near you with access to the content or a zip code search box to find a nearby library.

What's the advantage to Google? This is quality shit. This isn't just the recipe for Aunt Mildred's Plum Ragu that only 3 people in the whole world want. This is current content written by professional journalists with correctly spelled geographic and proper names and thoroughly researched facts (*cough*) and everything.

So the advantage to Google would be linking this content with ads.

I just had to help make some cuts to our library database budget. I just mostly sat there and nodded as the cuts were named. Until I yelled out, "NOOOOOOO!" when my pet database got axed. "Why didn't more people use The Complete Online Guide to REO Speedwagon?"

When our budget gets cut, we need to evaluate what gets used and what doesn't. And if you monitor the electronic resources for your library, you should understand how little some of these things get used compared to the prices paid.

So with cash thin and the threat of cuts a reality, why aren't these database vendors inventing ways to promote these products so they become essential and worth the money? I mean, if your database is popular and the competitor's is a dog, then which one do you think will get the cut?

So here is how Google can help me with my problem. They can't give me money, I know that, but they can find a way to make my databases more popular. All Google needs is access.

I've talked to database sales reps and it's pretty clear that they don't want their content open to googlebots. They sell content and don't see any advantage to letting Google peek at it. But if Google can index this stuff, then people can search it and find it and maybe increase the stats for my library. Which is what I want.

But since we've already paid for the database, what advantage is it to the vendor to let Google make money from the ads that would appear along side the vendor's content? Probably none. But if the database gets more use, then I might be more willing to fight to keep it the next time we need to make some cuts. And that's the advantage to the vendor.

Also, the invisible web becomes visible to more people.

So here are my thoughts: Google needs access to database content. And it doesn't need permission from the vendors. It only needs valid IDs or library card numbers from the largest database customers so that it can build an index of what's out there. Google employees need library cards. Do you think any Google employees have library cards?

Of course I don't know how a database is indexed. I don't know if getting in gives Google access to everything, but I'm just thinking out loud here. If I knew what the hell I was talking about, would I be stuck on the reference desk all day?

So Google, just do it. Like you did with the book scanning project; do it and wait for someone to complain. The print media publishers are going to limit access (maybe) to online news soon and this could be a way for you to compensate for that lost revenue.

And get me back my database. Because REO Speedwagon is touring and I gots to know everything that's happening! Everything!!