Never trust a corporation to do a library’s job
Andy Baio
1.6K18

Google’s slow fade with librarians

Maybe they’re just not that into us?


There is fantastic information in books. Often when I do a search, what is in a book is miles ahead of what I find on a Web site. —Sergey Brin

Librarians have been interested in the Google Books project since it began in 2004. It was a heady time to be an information worker. Google used to actively court libraries, and librarians. They showed up at our conferences in 2005, tossed a lot of money around, pumped us for information, talked big talk about partnerships and the beautiful music we could all make together.

They added a librarian resource center to Google. It had a pretty cool URL, and a picture of a library on it. They knew our weaknesses. Things looked serious.

google.com/librariancenter

They whispered sweet nothings in our ears about how much we all had in common in a special newsletter just for librarians written by Jodi Healy, their Library Partnership Manager. We liked her a lot when she came to our conferences. We forgave her when she admitted that Google didn’t even have a library. But we should have noticed the red flag.

Time passed. The newsletter started to be written by someone with the job title Associate Marketing Manager, Librarian Outreach in March of 2007. Librarian Central also got a blog in 2007 which they updated like crazy all through the early part of the year. We Googled “limerence” and brushed up on the five love languages. We’d always been big into acts of service.

Then they said they were taking a break. A break? Just for the summer, they said, then didn’t update for a year. Maybe we should have taken a hint? But we were so sure that we were made for each other.

They made one additional post to the blog in 2008 , its last. It was written by someone whose job was Product Marketing Manager, without a clip art book or library in sight. In early 2009 the Librarian Central URL just started redirecting to the blogspot blog. OK, we can take a hint.

We were having our own doubts, of course. How could you not? The Google Books project seemed to be letting itself go. Things any librarian would notice: bad scans; faulty metadata; narrowing the scope of public domain; having machines do jobs that should be done (or at least overseen) by humans. They seemed to be restricting and worsening access to cultural content, not expanding and improving it. Maybe we were going in different directions?

Boilerplate that comes with every public domain download. This isn’t what public domain means.

The last issue of the Google Librarian Newsletter in April 2009 directed people to the Inside Google Books blog. We saw Jodi around there until 2010. That blog hasn’t been updated since August 2012. Its last post, by a Google Play Operations Specialist, directs readers to the general Google Search blog. We know when we are getting the runaround.

Sometime in 2014 between August and October, Google removed the Librarian Central blog entirely, took down all the posts and memory-holed it. Maybe it was because of the comment spam. You can still read the posts from the blog through the Internet Archive. Sure, the Archive is not as flashy, but they get the work done and they’re always there for you.

What exactly were we thinking?

Google came back to the annual ALA Conference in June of 2012 claiming to be a First Time Exhibitor. They looked great, the years had been good to them. They were selling something of course… to libraries or really to anyone. We walked by a few times but they didn’t seem to recognize us.

But we still remember when they were there before. Librarians remember.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re doing pretty great on our own, better than ever really. We’ve gotten a bit more independent, not putting all of our eggs into any one basket, gotten better at establishing boundaries. Still not sure, after all that, how we got this all so wrong. Didn’t we both want the same thing? Maybe it really wasn’t us, it was them. Most days it’s hard to remember what we saw in Google. Why did we think we’d make good partners?

Thanks for the good times and best wishes in all your endeavors. I hope at some time in the future we can still be friends.


Jessamyn West is a librarian who answers email at Open Library, a project of the Internet Archive.

Scanned book images are from Getty Research Institute, Duke University and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign via the Internet Archive Book Images Flickr account. They have no known copyright restrictions.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.