Posting to NGC4LIB
— On Thu, 5/27/10, Ed Jones ; wrote:
> I received my weekly e-mail bulletin from the Times Literary Supplement this morning. Browsing its contents, I came on a summary concerning a published collection of old photographs of London. Clicking on it, I was taken to the corresponding review in the TLS. The review mentioned by title a 17-volume 1902 survey of life in London and, curious, I copied and pasted the title into my browser’s Google Books search box to see what I would find. It returned the complete set, readable online since they fall within the public domain. This all took less than a minute from opening the e-mail to perusing a volume in the set. I’ve grown so used to such sequences, that I had to stop to consider how remarkable it was.
This is exactly what my Extend Search does, except it goes far beyond Google Books, which I think is extremely important. I have just managed to incorporate this as a Firefox plugin. You can see the announcement on my blog http://tinyurl.com/2ujvbxr. Of course, it can be improved in a thousand ways. In a practical sense however, often students come to me saying they can’t find anything on their topic. When I show them the Extend Search, it almost always happens that within 10 minutes they are complaining they have too much! That’s a problem, but a completely different problem.
I agree that what you did was remarkable and demonstrates the power of what can be done today. I know that our public wants to be able to do these same things, especially when ebook readers finally begin to take off.
I think it is important to rethink the purpose of what we are doing and, in library terms, reconsider the definition of “the collection” to include what is *really available* to people, to include sites such as what you showed with the 1902 set found in Google Books. But there is a *lot* more and no one can convince me that our users don’t want this. Yet, it is horribly complicated to discover what is really out there and is where the Google-type tools falter.
Once this redefinition is accepted, then the purpose of the catalog, i.e. the method of finding resources in “the redefined collection” begins to assume another dimension. This is when management comes in: to determine *in practical terms* what this catalog-tool should allow people to do, figuring out how best to build it and who should do it, and how this can all function with the tremendous bibliographic legacy we have now.
These are some of the directions that we need to take today and I maintain that if we would build a tool that achieves this, however imperfectly, the huge amount of information that is now available would make a difference in society. It certainly has in my own life.