In recent interviews about his new book The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry), I’ve been struck by Siva Vaidhyanathan’s deep ambivalence about Google — How profoundly he realizes, even with all his doubts about its motives, how much Google has become indispensable, for himself, for the world, and for librarians. I discussed this in a previous article, based on an interview with Vaidhyanathan in Publishers Weekly.
I recently came across another interview of Vaidhyanathan in Inside Higher Ed, where his conflicted Google-sense comes out maybe even more. In the introduction, the author/interviewer, Steve Kolowich, I think does a good job of catching this sense:
As is often the case with cousins, the genetic differences between higher education and Google are more striking than their similarities. Beneath the interdependence and shared hereditary traits, tensions creep.
So, yes, the emphasis here is on “genetic differences” and “tensions.” But note the underlying context of these differences and tensions — That Google and academia are interdependent and closely related (“cousins” with “shared hereditary traits”). I want to repeat that the quote is not directly from Vaidhyanathan. But, as I said, I think it’s a good representation of his mixed views that come out in the interview.
Taking off from the idea of Google and academia being in a “cousin relationship,” in this article I’ll transfer the “cousin” idea from academia in general, more specifically to libraries. There are several things that bring this idea to mind — For one thing, Vaidhyanathan in the interview does make one notable mention of a library-Google connection, suggesting that colleges should consider hiring a librarian to be “Chief Google Officer,” to help faculty keep up with the stream of new Google tools. I’ll discuss a couple of other Google-Library connections in the conclusion, but the immediate thing that brought the idea to mind was reading an article on Larry Page, who will become the Google CEO on April 4, just after reading the Vaidhyanathan Inside Higher Ed interview.
7 Ways Larry Page is defining Google’s future, by Farhad Manjoo, is a long and penetrating portrait. As the title says, it does indeed center on Page. But with him being a Google co-founder, observations about the man and the company naturally intertwine. When I came across this article soon after reading the Vaidhyanathan Inside Higher Ed interview, the affinity between Google and libraries seemed natural.
The article is worth a read for many insightful passages, but here I’ll be looking at the parts of it that especially suggest to me the Google-Librarian relationship, mostly in a section called “Talk is Cheap” — The Google character discussed here, that I think fits librarians well also, is an understated modesty — Feeling uncomfortable shouting to the admiring bog about how great they (we) are:
Persuasion offends Google’s — and Page’s — meritocratic beliefs. The company became the biggest search engine in the world because it built a better product, not because it created better TV ads than Yahoo.
Google’s attitude (and librarians’ I think) is “We’ve got the good stuff, so why do we need to advertise it”:
Google’s build-it-and-they-will-come naïveté seems almost cute in the age of Apple. Many of Google’s advances go unnoticed by the public because nobody hears about them.
(An interesting aside in this quote is that Vaidhyanathan, in the Inside Higher Ed interview above suggests, as mentioned above, that librarians might be just the ones to help Google’s advances get noticed on college campuses.)
Manjoo mentions that Google PageRank is named for Larry Page, which brings up another little Page-Google-Library connection — As I’ve blogged before, PageRank has its origins in the mind of librarian Eugene Garfield, dubbed “Grandfather of Google” in my article — So, if Google’s grandfather is a librarian, doesn’t that make all of us librarians at least cousins?
On a personal level, Manjoo’s description of Page sounds like the stereotypical librarian: “reserved, unabashedly geeky, and said to be introverted.” He contrasts Page’s Google with Apple and Steve Jobs (who would certainly never be mistaken for a librarian), suggesting that the Page style may be a good fit:
With its new CEO an introvert, perhaps Google will never tap its inner Apple. But maybe, in the bigger picture, that’s a trade-off worth making. According to some surprising forthcoming research … introverts can be more successful leaders – particularly in dynamic, uncertain, and fast-changing environments like the tech industry.
The comments here on Google and Apple segue into another Google-Library commonality that I see, which is that they both stand on the side of the Open Web — Google certainly differs from libraries in being a commercial company that needs to make money. But for its basic function — Search — to work, it depends upon the Web being an open, free environment, as libraries strive to be for their users. Apple (and Facebook), on the other hand, occupies a more closed, “walled garden” environment, with tightly controlled access to information. So, for the good of the open model of the Web and libraries, it will be a good thing if Google under Larry Page does indeed not “tap its inner Apple.”
In conclusion, circling back to an apt Google-Library remark by Vaidhyanathan — In the “many-virtues-of-Google” part of the Inside Higher Ed interview above, he says “Google made the Web usable” — A user-friendly place where people can actually find what they’re looking for — Just like libraries do for their users.
Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey