Google Ngram Results

Posting to Autocat and NGC4LIB

Periodically, I play around with the Google Ngram Viewer. It has been much improved since its first appearance.

I decided to search it for usage of the terms:
“book catalog”, “card catalog”, (US and British spellings)
“OPAC” added with “online catalog” and “electronic catalog” (not with British spelling)
and then to compare these with the usage of “keyword search” or “online search” (with -ing variants).

I started from 1875 because results before then were negligible. It is easy enough to change the dates. The results are at:

“Book catalog(ue)” has never been used extensively.

“Card catalog(ue)” is still used widely, although it has dropped off precipitously since the early 1980s, obviously reflecting the introduction of online catalogs. I have noticed that people (even young people) often ask for the “card catalog” even though they have never seen one in their lives. It may be like people asking “Do you have any films?” when they are not thinking of film itself, but of DVDs or streaming video.

“OPAC, etc.” rose while “card catalog” fell, but nevertheless topped out in 1994 and has dropped off dramatically.

“Keyword search(ing)” and “online search(ing)” rocketed up during the later 1970s to outstrip everything by the mid-1980s but has fallen almost as sharply since then, even falling below “card catalog(ue)”. Only in 2005 did it once again overtake “OPAC, etc.”

This next graph focuses on the use of “OPAC” “online catalog” and “electronic catalog”

This reveals that “OPAC” was popular for awhile during the mid-1990s but has declined in favor of “online catalog”. “Electronic catalog” never was very popular. I didn’t include “digital catalog” because it didn’t register.

When I add yet another term however, the result is even more intriguing.

The term “search engine(s)” blows everything else away. It first appeared in the early 1990s and already by 1995 had overtaken “card catalog” and “OPAC, etc.” although it fell slightly in the last couple of years.

Of course, it is impossible to draw any real conclusions, but since this shows the relative use of the terms within the Google Books corpus, it should reflect more or less what has been published. This may reflect the relative importance of the different technologies in the public perception, in other words, that search engines are several times more important in the public perception than are the various library-created tools.

Such a result shouldn’t be surprising but I thought was interesting enough to share.

A caveat, the ngram viewer works only with exact searches, so capitalization and plurals make a difference. I didn’t bother except for the word OPAC. Of course, OCR is also not completely reliable.