Google is not the enemy

I’ve heard negative comments about Google before and I’ve not commented on it but I’m in a fightin’ mood today so I’m going to say something this time.

Yesterday a presenter from an academic library made an off handed comments about how she "doesn’t let" her students use Google. When questioned why not, she went on to explain that Google is "unreliable" and "doesn’t use boolean" though it is "sort of built in." (I believe she was attempting to point out that boolean operators are not necessary when searching in Google but are typically necessary in professional databases.) Shortly thereafter she admitted to "sometimes cheating" by using Amazon.com to search for resources on a topic instead using library resources.

Anyone but me got a problem with that? Where to begin?

Well, let’s see. Google is just another tool in a searcher’s arsenal. Nothing more. Nothing less. For some things is may be exactly what the searcher needs to use. Sometimes, not. But to dismiss it out of hand because it doesn’t require the use of boolean operators and that not all of the resources it finds are 100% reliable is intellectual arrogance to the n<sup>th</sup> degree.

If you’ve got a problem with the results that Google finds, teach your students to be skeptical and good information evaluators. Don’t refuse to let them use the tool.

If you’re upset that your students are using the resources we’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars for, you’ve got a marketing problem. That’s not Google’s fault, it’s ours.

If, after the students are completely aware of the paid-for library resources and then still prefer to go to Google (or Amazon.com) first, then I’d blame the interfaces in those databases before I’d blame Google. People like simple. Google is simple. "Professional" databases are not.

Google FirstSearch

If you don’t like the fact that Google doesn’t require a knowledge of boolean operators that’s not Google’s fault either. Google doesn’t require them because <em>it works differently</em> than professional databases. Professional databases index things like title, author, abstract, article content, and a <em>controlled vocabulary</em>. Google does index content but it’s hardly controlled and the relevance algorithm is centers around the number of links to that resource. Ok, it may be a popularity contest and you may not like that it is, but that’s what seems to be working.

I’m not trying to say that boolean shouldn’t be taught. I’m not saying that Google has all the answers. I’m not even saying that Google is always an appropriate tool for research. But none of that means that you should refuse to let someone use it. Really, when you’re dealing with young people, isn’t forbidding them from something just going to make them want to use it more?

8 Replies to “Google is not the enemy”

  1. I’m wondering how this academic librarian can keep her students from using Google. Maybe she is successful in the very short run, but believe me, they’re using it, whether she likes it or not. Google’s search capabilities are getting stronger as they make their code more and more sophisticated. To unilateraly say that Google is unreliable is to hide your head in the sand. For many, many folks, Google results are “good enough,” even though they may not be the best results.

  2. That’s so irritating. You’re right – google is a tool. So why not teach students to use that tool effectively (especially since they’re going to use it anyway) instead of treating it as the enemy? Ignoring Google and the ways it can or should (or should not) be used is doing a disservice to the students.

  3. I agree that a lot of user interfaces are confusing. Let’s face it, it is sometimes easier and quicker to find something on Amazon than on some of the library OPAC’s. In my opinion, library OPAC’s were not designed with library patrons in mind, or for quick ease of use for library patrons. OPAC’s may work well for librarians, but this is not always the case for patrons…

  4. That’s certainly odd, even odder than those that say they don’t recommend using Wikipedia for anything.

  5. I was also at that presentation and I took her comments in another way. I believe what she was trying to stress was the importance of showing students the difference between ‘reliable’ sources and those that may not be as reliable. If I remember correctly, she did not ‘forbid’ the use of google she just wanted to make sure students knew the difference between a reliable source and one that was not before using Google.
    No one is arguing that Google does not have reliable sources, but whether or not students know how to tell the difference.

    I work in an elementary school and, at the fourth and fifth grade level, we are talking about using reliable sources. I can speak from first hand experience that students have a hard time distinguishing between a ‘reliable’ source and one that may not be accurate. This is something we work on from elementary to college level.

    Those of us working in the education field are seeing that information literacy is an important skill that must be taught in order for students to succeed.

    BTW.. I was also at the technological presentation and understood it to be a ‘basic’ overview. Although, it was not exactly what I thought it would be, I found the assessment by a ‘seasoned’ speaker with technological experience somewhat harsh.
    It is not easy to get up in front of a group of people while having technical difficulties and make the presentation you may have planned.

  6. I never said I forbade the students from using Google, far from it. Instead, I said that in BI sessions I encourage them to not run to Google first, to attempt to use the resources their university spends thousands and thousands of dollars to access.

    THEN, after spending some time learning search strategies and what is available through our resources, they can use their information literacy skills to determine what resources on Google would be appropriate.

    Also, when direct quoting someone (i.e., me, in this instance) please quote accurately as I did not say what you assert in this clever blog posting.

    I was at your afternoon session and was confused by your reference to my “Google comment” one that I never said. But, I figured why bother correcting you as it wasn’t worth it to me at that time. Now I feel differently.

    ~Danielle Becker

  7. I’m sorry if I misunderstood you and I tried to quote you in short bits as I couldn’t remember exactly what you said. However, had this been the first time that I’d heard such comments (as I understood you or as you’ve clarified) I probably would not have said something. Over the past decade I’ve heard many academic librarians say “databases first, Google, once you’re learned” and non-academic librarians complain about teachers (K-12 or academic) who “refuse to let the students use the Internet”. (In fact, I heard this just yesterday at our state conference.) In this case, your comments were less of a comment on you, more of a comment on the general attitude I keep running into. I probably should have been more clear on that but your comments are what prompted my post so I used you as the example.

  8. Perhaps it would be more prudent, moving forward, to record people you wish to direct quote. I noticed that throughout my presentation you were on your computer, I am certain that your PC has the same capability as my Mac to record audio. That would’ve been a great solution to this issue of misquoting.

    As for this Google discussion, I would not say that I have a general “attitude,” as you say, but rather, I am putting forth to my students what I learned at Pratt (my library school) and the principles upheld by the other schools I’ve worked reference. Quite honestly, I think this approach works well as students do need to learn how to discern between these different resources and learn by doing.

    ~Danielle Becker

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