Google Searches Just Don’t Cover Everything

That’s right, people who are skilled in finding, accessing, and sifting through information to find out what’s useful are still important. Often we call them librarians, sometimes archivists, keepers, guides, or just plain old smart people. Yesterday, the Weekend All Things Considered Host Arun Rath ended the Sunday edition with a salute to reference librarians NPR’s, through a tribute to NPR’s reference librarian, Kee Malesky (retiring at the end of the year). In the tribute, Arun describes how reference librarians, even in the age of Google, have proved helpful. In short, it’s about information retrieval in a sea of haphazardly organized digital information that we call the Web.

Librarians: The Original Search EngineIt is refreshing to hear this from a non-librarian, even if it is on NPR. Speaking as a journalist, Arun observes, “ever since Google became a verb, I don’t think people appreciate the power of a skilled librarian.” “Believe it or not,” he continues, “Google searches just don’t cover everything.” As an example, he describes the challenge of finding correct pronunciations of names and places, a frequent need for radio journalists, which he says Kee has been instrumental in finding and communicating. To hear the editorial, you have to cue up the player at the following link to about 8:13:

Audio from NPR Weekend All Things Considered from Sunday, December 29, 2013 (click to 8:13). The clip is not pulled out separately on the show page, but you can also listen to (and read) the final music segment here.

A recent post on Hack Library School characterized the librarian’s relationship with Google as “best frenemies forever.” Taking a somewhat different slant, the author there calls for “librarians” to “think long and hard about what it is that Google doesn’t provide. Rath’s editorial opens up a few more areas in which reference librarians, particularly those in the news and private sector, provide essential, and Google-complementary, services in the age of networked information.

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Is There an Echo In Here?

Does the Internet, specifically services like Facebook and Google, narrow or broaden the scope of news and information that you encounter on the Internet? At issue are algorithms that sort and help to select information that you want from the googles of information out there. One of these, that used by Facebook, is called EdgeRank. Underlying all of this is a big question about online social networks, whether online or face-to-face: do your social circles amplify your own views if your friends share information that you are already in the mood to see—i.e., do they create an echo chamber&mdashor do they help you to see new things (and in new ways)?

A new study published by a team at Facebook, led Eytan Bakshy (a colleague and graduate of UMSI), says no. Summarizing the study in slate.com, Farhad Manjoo writes:

Although we’re more likely to share information from our close friends, we still share stuff from our weak ties—and the links from those weak ties are the most novel links on the network. Those links from our weak ties, that is, are most likely to point to information that you would not have shared if you hadn’t seen it on Facebook. The links from your close ties, meanwhile, more likely contain information you would have seen elsewhere if a friend hadn’t posted it. These weak ties “are indispensible” to your network, Bakshy says. “They have access to different websites that you’re not necessarily visiting.”