TILT-Y Mail #3 (and 1)
librarians like to search, everyone else likes to find
Hey it’s Jessamyn and I’m a librarian with a lot of different things going on. No need to outline them here, there’s places you can go if you want to know about me. Today I’ll explain some of my fascination with finding things.
My father was a technologist and bullshitter. Not in that “doesn’t tell the truth” way (though maybe some of that) but mostly in that “likes to shoot the shit with people” way. When he was being sociable he’d pass the time idly wondering about things. Some of these were innumeracy tests “How many of this thing do you think could fit inside this other thing?” or “How many of these things do you think there are in the world?” Others were more concrete “Can I figure out what percentage of the movies that have been released this year will wind up on Netflix in the next twelve months?” and then he’d like to talk about how you’d get the answer. I mostly just wanted to get the answer, why just speculate about something you could know?
He wasn’t often feeling sociable so it was worth trying to engage with these questions to keep the conversation going. I’d try some searches, I’d poke around online, I’d ask some people, his attention would wane. Often the interactions would end abruptly with some variant of head-shaking and “Well I guess you can’t know some things…” I feel like many, possibly most, things are knowable given enough time to do the research. Still do.
To impatient people many things are “unknowable”. The same is true for users of Google. Google is powerful and fast, sure. But they’ve buried their advanced search deeper and deeper over time, continually try to coerce you to sign in and give them location data, and they save your search history unless you tell them not to. It’s common knowledge that they’re the largest media owner on the planet, more than Disney, more than Comcast. I use Google. I like Google. But even though they’re better than most other search engines out there, that doesn’t mean that searching, and finding, can’t be a lot better. Getting a million results feels like some sort of accomplishment but it’s not worth much if you don’t have the result you want.
As filtering and curating are becoming more and more what the internet is about, having a powerful, flexible, and “thoughtful” search feature residing on top of these vast stores of poorly archived digital stuff becomes more critical. No one should settle for a search tool that is just trying to sell you something. Everyone should work on getting their librarian merit badges in order to learn to search, not just find.
There are (at least ) three Jessamyn Wests. Google thinks you only will be looking for two of them.
Bonus photos from the Cazenovia Public Library. A library cat. A library mummy.
This little EOM glyph is from a book called Practical Bookbinding. I found it by searching through the Internet Archive’s Book Images account at Flickr. I wrote a blog post explaining how I do that to find other public domain images.