RDA-L Some discoveries of search engine results

On 8/13/2015 10:51 AM, Bernhard Eversberg wrote:
> But if we as a profession therefore give in to the general public’s > unreflected superstition, to serve them rubbish and make no attempt to > put better ways into the foreground and promote these, not daring to > open a “Pandora’s Box”, then, well, this may be taken as a bit of > additional evidence that the age of reason is in decline. Or hasn’t > really begun yet, all things considered …

I don’t believe that any amount of explanation will convince people to open that “Pandora’s Box.” It’s too frightening to them, too boring, too technical, too whatever. That doesn’t mean that things are in decline (although they may be when I look at the political situation around the world, but that is off topic).

The task, as library professionals, is to give people an alternative they like better than the others available to them. If we do that, the problem is solved–but of course, it goes without saying that this is much easier said that done. Yet, it is also true. If libraries do not provide some alternative that people like, they will lose out. That microbiology scholar I mentioned in the very first post is a great example: he doesn’t need the library for anything. Or at least he doesn’t think he needs it.

So, how do we provide something that someone like this fellow would prefer? The very first step, I think, is to put out of our minds what we have been taught is the solution or a solution. A recent talk between Lawrence Krauss, the physicist and Noam Chomsky, the linguist is very interesting in this regard. Chomsky is talking about when he began studying linguistics in the late 1940s and compares the time to the early days of science. He explains that in medieval times, there were answers to everything: there were the sympathies and antipathies, there was an accepted understanding of visual perception and so on. In medieval times, it wasn’t that there were no answers. On the contrary, there was an explanation for everything.

What Galileo … [et al.] did was to ask serious questions about these answers and they discovered that they didn’t understand anything at all! That was the beginning of the scientific method. Here is a link that goes into the relevant part of the talk: https://youtu.be/Ml1G919Bts0?t=23m39s

Of course, Galileo … [et al.] were not very popular with a lot of people in power. But I think that eventually, we are going to have to start from scratch if we are to build something that a significant part of the population truly wants.

Perhaps a good beginning would be merely to determine what the term “relevance” really means. Obviously, there are several meanings that are all quite different. What “relevance” means in search engines, in the catalog, in different types of databases; how it is interpreted among IT specialists, librarians and the general public. Just doing that on its own may prove highly educational.

James Weinheimer weinheimer.jim.l@gmail.com
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