Librarians have a love-hate relationship with Google. They love it because it does much of their job for them so much better than they do it, and hate it for the same reason. Librarians used to like to whine about how bad the search results were. "But we’ve got so many great things that aren’t on the Internet." "People just use stuff because it’s easy to find."
It might be true that libraries have all sorts of great stuff not found free on the Internet, like copyrighted books. Those are good things.
The problem isn’t with Google, of course. The problem is the coarseness and vulgarity of our culture. Once upon a time we had libraries to improve the culture by trying to get people to read good books instead of doing whatever they did before: milk cows or plant corn or fondle sheep or whatever those mostly rural people did back in the day. I wouldn’t know.
These days librarians have given up the fight. At some point in the last few decades, librarianship was taken over by vulgarians. Where librarians used to want people to read more and better books, now they want them to play more and popular videogames and assure the perverts that they have a Constitutional right to view porn on the public dime. Libraries were like a leaven of intelligence and high culture in a loaf of mass culture garbage. These days the librarians promote the mass culture garbage, because that’s what the people like! Or maybe it’s just what the librarians like. Regardless, that’s what we hear about all the time from the librarians.
But now Google – always the innovator – has done the right thing. Google is standing astride the vulgarian culture yelling "Stop!" What am I talking about? The new Google Highbrow, of course.
"Google is set to launch a new version of its omnipresent search engine that will question the cultural validity of people’s enquiries. Rather than instantly offering a comprehensive list of the most popular websites and images related to the keywords, the new version will offer its opinion on the subject of the enquiry and if it finds the request to be intellectually vacuous, will steer the user clear of the original search altogether."
All I can say is, about bloody time!
"Tests of ‘Google Highbrow’ have shown that a search for Oprah will ask ‘Do you mean ‘Opera’?’, and ‘Rambo’ was presumed to be a miss-spelling of the 19th century French poet ‘Rimbaud’. A search for Pamela Anderson enquired whether you were referring to the 18th century novel ‘Pamela’ by Samuel Richardson or perhaps the film director Wes Anderson."
Finally, something from Google that highbrow librarians like myself can approve of. I know it works, too. I tried searching annoyed librarian, and it responded, "Do you mean librarian of congress. Are you aware the Jorge Luis Borges was a librarian? And Philip Larkin, who was often annoyed? Perhaps you want pages related to them?" Color me impressed.
Librarians should now do the typical librarian thing and imitate Google. We’re always hearing about how library websites or opacs should be "more like Google." I think opacs and circulation desks should be "more like Google Highbrow."
Someone searches in an opac for a trashy dvd, the opac could suggest a performance of Shakespeare. Someone comes up to the circulation desk with a true crime book or celebrity biography, and the library assistant could suggest they exchange that trash for some quality literature. Or better yet, just throw away the trash and force them to check out some quality literature. Either way, the circulation stats go up!
We could call this initiative Librarian Highbrow. With the Librarian Highbrow initiative, librarians could finally serve worthwhile goals in society. They’d have something honorable and important to do and wouldn’t have to get so excited about videogames and library blogs because they desperately hope these things will bring in the masses. Librarian Highbrow doesn’t pander to the masses. It educates the masses. Surely now that Google is doing it, we can do it, too.