Reading the “Making Libraries Visible On The Web” article created a massive “ah ha” moment for me this week.The library is basically cut off from internet search tools. I knew this I guess, but I had never really thought about how counter to library culture this was. Every day, I start my search at a Google (or other) search box. But, in order to search the public library catalog one must first go to the local public library website, then click to get into the catalog to search, and only then can one access the vast amount of information the library has accumulated. As Jeff Penka, one of those working to make library data accessible, correctly states, “Collections are one of the library’s largest assets, but also one of the most invisible on the web” (Enis, 2016).
Since the library catalog is completely separate from the internet, any bit of the amazing information librarians add will mostly be unseen by patrons. I went to my own local public library website where there are many great booklists available. But, since the booklists are housed within the LIS software and therefore opaque to any search engine, even if I search for the exact title of the booklist it does not come up in my Google search. This is librarian work done for the community that is not available to the patrons easily.
I know that an easy answer would be to tell the patrons to go into the library website, but this ignores the most simple of customer service principles, to make things simple for the user. The user does not go to the library website to search, they go to Google, so thus the library data must be available for Google.
A quick search for Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi reveals the top hits to be amazon.com, goodreads.com, and a review by the New York Times. The facts box on the right includes reviews by GoodReads.com and B&N.com. Under the “Get the Book” section you see options to buy the book from Google Play Books, Apple Books, and Barnes & Noble, all for-profit companies. Under the “Borrow” section we see three entries: one for the San Jose Library, the Santa Clara County library system, and the North California Digital Library. I was initially excited to see any libraries listed, but these links are actually only references to the ebook or audiobook. One might assume the physical book is not available. The only reason that these links even exist is because Overdrive, a for-profit company which charges libraries a lot of money for their content, has integrated their catalog with the internet. Overdrive recognized the benefit to being a part of the search results.
So why has the library, the place whose motto is information for all, been shut out from the internet search?
Quite simply, libraries are still using MARC records and thus the tools are all built for MARC records and the internet search engines do not crawl the MARC records. Thus, the library is shut off from the most pervasive and influential information system ever created – the internet. This is the most serious and disturbing issue and there is not enough of a ruckus created about it. This is not just the death of the card catalog, which was a system used pretty exclusively by librarians in library buildings. The whole world is moving on and the change to the new BIBFRAME records is not happening fast enough – it should have happened years ago! I tried to find out what I could about BIBFRAME with a quick search and although it looks like the Library of Congress is still actively working on BIBFRAME it is not close to being ready to roll out. If there was ever an example where libraries are NOT following the startup example of “fail fast” this is it.
That the Google results Knowledge Card includes a Borrow section indicates that even the for-profit company knows the library needs to be a part of the answer. Now how long will it take libraries to deliver a BIBFRAME solution.
Fons, T. (2016). Making libraries visible on the web: to ensure that library content is conveniently accessed, libraries must give search engines what they want. Library Journal (1976), 141(13), 44.
Enis, M. (2016). Library.Link builds web visibility: platform enables search engines to highlight catalogs. Library Journal (1976), 141(13), 18.