March 2005
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 Sunday, March 20, 2005
Thoughts on Google Scholar and OpenURL.

Google Scholar has recently been experimenting with providing links to the OpenURL resolvers of different libraries. Currently, they are doing this by allowing users to set a preference of selecting up to three different OpenURL resolver links. While I think this is a very interesting and useful experiment, I am also concerned about the role of the library when it is used only as a routing point to a primary resource.

Let me explain my thoughts a bit. I think that libraries need to be working a lot more closely with the likes of Google and other mainstream information providers - I really do. There is a lot of value added by having libraries and commercial providers collaborate and share approaches. But I also think that if we, as a library community, aren't careful about our approach, the commercial provider community will take our added-value and subsume it without sharing back. This is tricky; our primary mission is to provide free access to information. But do we provide free services to commercial interests, especially commercial interests who are in some respects overlapping our own service space?

Right now, libraries are freely providing OpenURL resolver services to Google Scholar. This is a big win for Google Scholar, because it strengthens its position as a primary provider of quality scholarly information, even if in reality it is libraries who are providing a lot of the full-text resources. If Google Scholar becomes competively advantaged by taking advantage of the resources that libraries pay dearly for, shouldn't libraries in return be compensated in some way? Are we obligated to freely provide resolution services to Google in the same way we provide them to our patrons? I don't think so - in fact, I think we are obligated to be compensated for providing a valuable service. Perhaps this can be accomplished through a 'click-through' fee, a business model which is extremely familiar to Google.

Google Scholar is the start of a paradigm shift in how scholarly information will be found and accessed. If the library community wants to have a role in this shift, we need to stop thinking just within the library community and start acting as players in the information business.

[The Digital Librarian]
8:44:02 AM    

R.I.P 2005 - Federated Search.

2005 is the year that will be remembered (in the library world) as the year federated searching became obsolete. Google Scholar is already proving that a harvested, centralized search approach is more useful to information seekers than any federated search approach. At least one colleague I've talked to agrees with me - the only real reason for the federated searching is if you cannot harvest the data and index it locally for searching. Federated searching has too many problems which cannot be easily addressed - lack of speed and difficulty in consistantly ranking results are just two off of the top of my head.

So, here's a question: If Google can work with venders so that they can harvest and index their data, why can't libraries? It should be affordable from a technology perpective - the most expensive cost will actually be development and planning time, not hardware. But this cost is minimal in the context of libraries no longer being relevant providers of scholarly information. If Google becomes a better provider of scholarly articles and information than a typical university library, then we're going to struggle to justify not only our budgets, but our role in the academic process. We may end up not being facilitators of access to information, but instead playing a much smaller role which fences us back into the traditional, and shrinking, physical library space.

[The Digital Librarian]
8:43:27 AM    

Beyond the Federated Search.

In a previous post, I stated that 2005 is the year where federated searching loses its steam. Google Scholar is an example of a tool, which by combining the power of metadata harvesting with a local, indexed search, and tying the results to a registry of OpenURL providers, provides a much better user experience than any federated search tool I've encountered.

So, why is Google able to do this, and do it in a relatively short time span, while libraries haven't? An arguement could be made that Google has a greater amount of resources at its disposal, and because it is Google, can work out agreements with database providers which allow for the harvesting of their metadata (and full text) for the purpose of providing search results (but at this time, not the full-text directly). Most likely, there is at least some truth to this arguement. But I don't believe all of the credit goes to Google; a lot of the credit also goes to the Library community for being passive in its approach towards information providers. We now rent our information instead of buying it; we subscribe to journals and databases without assurance that, if we eventually cancel a subscription, we will retain access to the information for the years to which we duly paid. We accept these terms, and because we do, our technology and our services are limited by them.

So, what should we do? We should seek to emulate what Google is doing; not necessarily try to emulate Google Scholar (though we could and have done worse), but seek to work out agreements where we are allowed a copy of the data to which we are providing access. If the folks at Google can work out terms which were acceptable to content providers, I'm sure libraries can as well. Maybe, just maybe, if librarians, who are quite good at organizing and working with indexed information, could start to play with the databases, indexes, and metadata provided by our major information vendors, then perhaps we can start to explore new access tools which are users actually want to adopt and use. Otherwise, instead of being second (after google) in the information search food chain our users consume, we may start to drop to third (after Google Scholar), or worse...

[The Digital Librarian]
8:43:00 AM