Category Archives: Google

Let’s talk about search

So my last post, “Yet another study shows that ‘digital natives’ suck at searching,” seems to have struck a nerve– it’s received over 5000 hits (thanks to links from BoingBoing and Fark, as well as Twitter and Facebook), and I’ve been reading  the wide range of comments that have sprung up in various places (including my blog, BoingBoing, and the original article at Inside Higher Ed).

I think what many people (especially students) don’t understand is that search is both a tool and a process, requiring different skills, knowledge, and experience. You can learn just enough to get by or really master it with a little curiosity, persistence, time, and practice. There are many ways to do this, and you don’t need a formal class– you can teach yourself (as I did).  There are lots of online resources to help you, including tutorials and how-to guides on university and library websites and specific search engine help pages. (And don’t forget about librarians, a seriously underused resource.) There are links to some resources in my posts and my blogroll and I’ll add more soon.

I do believe it’s important for students to be taught (and regularly practice)– at school, in libraries, and at home– the essentials of digital and information literacy and critical thinking, starting at a young age  and continuing throughout their education. These are important life skills which are being sadly neglected.

Yes, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that most students are lazy and want to get quick and “good enough” results. But the problem is that they don’t know what they don’t know. (As the ERIAL researchers noted, “students were just as unaware of the extent of their own information illiteracy as everyone else.”) They have no idea that there’s a world of information out there that you can’t find through a Google search. Most of it has never been digitized and probably never will be (for lack of funding and copyright concerns, among other reasons). Some has been digitized but is locked in proprietary databases and the “invisible web.” Most books and articles published in the US after 1922 are still under copyright, so even if they’ve been digitized chances are they aren’t free (unless you borrow them from a library). Even if information has been indexed in Google, you may never find it if you don’t know how to properly search for it.

Google could certainly improve the situation, but it is a company of engineers trying to make search as easy and simple as possible for the vast majority of users, giving them a single “magic box” into which they can type anything and get results, even if they’ve spelled the keywords wrong or don’t really know what they are looking for. Some of the “improvements” they’ve made over time have made it frustrating for advanced users like me, such as ignoring the terms I’ve actually typed and substituting what they assume I’m looking for, or filtering my results based on my past search history. And if you want more advanced search options, Google doesn’t make it easy to find or learn about them, and their help articles often aren’t helpful at all. Search is not just an engineering problem to be solved– it is both an art and a science, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But no matter how good or flawed a tool like Google search is, anyone can learn how to use it well and get far better results.

A number of people have asked for some advice and tips on search, so here you go.

General advice:

  • When using any search engine, database, or website with search functions, take a few moments to read the instructions or help pages to figure out how to use the site to its full advantage.
  • Search engines are constantly evolving, so you should periodically review the instructions to see if you need to make changes in the way you search.
  • Every search engine is different, so what works for one won’t necessarily work for all, and each may produce different results using the same search terms.
  • If there is an “advanced search” option, you should always use it, as it will give you much more control over your searching and the results.
  • Refine your search. Experiment with different keywords and combinations of keywords. Look for clues to other possible keywords, such as related terms, alternate names, and subject-specific terminology. If you don’t get the results you are looking for, keep trying different things.
  • Remember to look beyond just the first few search results.

Some Google-specific tips:

  • Google’s search tips and help articles can be hard to find, but they do have useful information. Here are direct links:
  • Use Google’s advanced search function, which allows you to limit your search  in many different ways and combinations (all these words, this exact wording or phrase, one or more of these words, don’t show pages that have any of these unwanted words, language, file type, search within a site or domain, etc.). There is no longer a link to it on the main search page– it’s now hidden behind the gear icon (search settings) in the upper right corner. Here’s the direct link:  http://www.google.com/advanced_search?hl=en
  • If you’d rather use Google’s main search box instead of the advanced search, the help articles I linked to above have command shortcuts you can use, such as placing quotation marks around exact phrases. Note that Google no longer uses all Boolean operators. (You don’t need AND as it is the default in all searches. You can still use OR. Don’t use NOT, instead place a minus sign (-) directly before any words or terms you want to exclude.)
  • Google has many specialized search functions for images, news, blogs, scholarly papers, books, patents, etc.  Look in the upper left-hand corner, click “more,” then click “even more” for a full list. Here’s the direct link to the list:  http://www.google.com/intl/en/about/products/index.html
  • All the words you put in the query will be used and the order you put them in matters.
  • Search is case insensitive, punctuation is usually ignored, and common words (the, a) are usually ignored.
  • Google automatically searches for common variations of a keyword.

A final note: Improving your search skills is important, but it’s even more important that you think critically and evaluate your search results and sources.  (See some of my previous posts for more about this.)

Yet another study shows that “digital natives” suck at searching

I’ve blogged before about studies showing that so-called “digital natives” lack basic information literacy skills and have great difficulty doing academic research and finding and evaluating sources.  (My two posts on Project Information Literacy studies are here and here.)

This Inside Higher Ed article reported today on the results of new studies by the ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) Project. Here’s an excerpt, but you should read the whole thing:

“The majority of students — of all levels — exhibited significant difficulties that ranged across nearly every aspect of the search process,” according to researchers there. They tended to overuse Google and misuse scholarly databases. They preferred simple database searches to other methods of discovery, but generally exhibited “a lack of understanding of search logic” that often foiled their attempts to find good sources….

The most alarming finding in the ERIAL studies was perhaps the most predictable: when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy….

The prevalence of Google in student research is well-documented, but the Illinois researchers found something they did not expect: students were not very good at using Google. They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources. (For instance, limiting a search to news articles, or querying specific databases such as Google Book Search or Google Scholar.)

Duke and Asher said they were surprised by “the extent to which students appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school.” Even students who were high achievers in high school suffered from these deficiencies…

In other words: Today’s college students might have grown up with the language of the information age, but they do not necessarily know the grammar.

“I think it really exploded this myth of the ‘digital native,’ ” Asher said. “Just because you’ve grown up searching things in Google doesn’t mean you know how to use Google as a good research tool.”

Even when students turned to more scholarly resources, that did not necessarily solve the problem. Many seemed confused about where in the constellation of library databases they should turn to locate sources for their particular research topic: Half wound up using databases a librarian “would most likely never recommend for their topic.”…

Years of conditioning on Google had not endowed the Illinois Wesleyan students with any searching savvy to speak of, but rather had instilled them with a stunted understanding of how to finely tune a search in order to home in on usable sources, concluded the ERIAL researchers.

Regardless of the advanced-search capabilities of the database they were querying, “Students generally treated all search boxes as the equivalent of a Google search box, and searched ‘Google-style,’ using the ‘any word anywhere’ keyword as a default,” they wrote. Out of the 30 students Duke and Asher observed doing research, 27 failed to narrow their search criteria at all when doing so would have turned up more helpful returns.

Unsurprisingly, students using this method got either too many search results or too few. Frequently, students would be so discouraged they would change their research topic to something more amenable to a simple search….

Duke and Asher noted: “Students showed an almost complete lack of interest in seeking assistance from librarians during the search process.” Of all the students they observed — many of whom struggled to find good sources, to the point of despair — not one asked a librarian for help.

In a separate study of students…, other ERIAL researchers deduced several possible reasons for this. The most basic was that students were just as unaware of the extent of their own information illiteracy as everyone else.

How are students supposed to acquire these important digital and information literacy skills if they aren’t being taught in schools, many parents and teachers lack these skills themselves, and the librarians who have the skills are ignored or fired as libraries close in record numbers?

Historic photographs mapped by location

Thanks to ResearchBuzz for pointing out a cool new resource: SepiaTown, a site to search, view, and upload historic photographs by location. The site combines the historic images with modified Google Maps, so you can search or browse by location. Click on an image to see the old photograph and view the date and other details about it. The “image info” link brings up more information, such as the name of the photographer, the source of the photograph, and the source URL. The “then/now” link allows you to compare the historic image to the current Google street view of the same location or building. Many of the images have been uploaded from library digital collections and Flickr Commons (a site I blogged about last year).

Interview about my “Creative Research for Writers” class

Kate Lebo’s interview with me about my May 16th “Creative Research for Writers” class has been posted on the Richard Hugo House blog. Here’s a preview:

Kate Lebo: When I think “research,” I think “Google” or (anachronistically) “card catalog.” Is that what you mean by creative research for writers? Or will your class teach students how to go beyond the card catalog?

Lisa Gold: What I call “creative research” is figuring out what you need to know, why you need to know it, where to find it and how to use it in your writing. It’s also about seeking out a variety of sources to gain knowledge and understand context instead of just searching for discrete facts. The number of soldiers killed in the Battle of Gettysburg is a fact, but understanding what it was like to be a Confederate soldier fighting in that battle is knowledge. That is what you need to write about it in a believable way, bring the events and characters to life and transport your reader to that time and place.

If you only use Google and Wikipedia for your research, you’ll not only have to dig through mountains of junk, you’ll never find all the really great stuff that’s hidden beneath the surface or may not be on the Web at all. I’ll be talking in detail about a wide range of sources and where to find them, as well as how to evaluate sources so you can figure out what’s credible, accurate and useful and take into account their strengths and weaknesses. Though my focus will be on different types of digital and print sources, we’ll also explore other valuable but underused sources—like people, for example….

You can read the entire interview here.

You can still register for the class, which will be held on Sunday, May 16th from 10am to 5pm. See my previous post for details, or follow the link within the interview to register.

Update, 2/19/2014: Hugo House has redesigned their website, so the original page I linked to is gone. I’ve replaced the link with an archived version of the page from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. I’ve also copied the full text of the interview below.

May 12, 2010 Hugo House interview with Lisa Gold

Kate Lebo: When I think “research,” I think “Google” or (anachronistically) “card catalog.” Is that what you mean by creative research for writers? Or will your class teach students how to go beyond the card catalog?

Lisa Gold: What I call “creative research” is figuring out what you need to know, why you need to know it, where to find it and how to use it in your writing. It’s also about seeking out a variety of sources to gain knowledge and understand context instead of just searching for discrete facts. The number of soldiers killed in the Battle of Gettysburg is a fact, but understanding what it was like to be a Confederate soldier fighting in that battle is knowledge. That is what you need to write about it in a believable way, bring the events and characters to life and transport your reader to that time and place.

If you only use Google and Wikipedia for your research, you’ll not only have to dig through mountains of junk, you’ll never find all the really great stuff that’s hidden beneath the surface or may not be on the Web at all. I’ll be talking in detail about a wide range of sources and where to find them, as well as how to evaluate sources so you can figure out what’s credible, accurate and useful and take into account their strengths and weaknesses. Though my focus will be on different types of digital and print sources, we’ll also explore other valuable but underused sources—like people, for example. I’ve also put together an annotated list of selected references and resources to help students with their own research.

KL: How does research lead to better writing?

LG: Creative research can help writers with inspiration, world-building, storytelling and character development. It doesn’t matter whether you are writing about real people or fictional characters, or about living in the past, present, future or an imaginary world—the more you know (or decide) about their day-to-day lives, their worldview and their world, the more real and understandable they will be to you and your readers. John Crowley wrote that these “small details of common life… give actuality, aliveness and thickness” to a story. The point of doing research is to help you tell a great story and breathe life into your characters, not to show off all the cool stuff you’ve found. Kelley Eskridge told me that she tries to “learn enough in research to create a culture in the story that feels real to people who know it, and is accessible to people who don’t… Every ‘research detail’ that makes it into the final story needs to serve a dual purpose—to establish/ground the world of the story and to either serve as an emotional backdrop or reveal an aspect of character.”

KL: What’s the most common hurdle people encounter when doing research for their writing? What’s the best/easiest way to overcome it?

LG: I think the most common mistakes people make are using research as an excuse not to write and not knowing when to stop. You shouldn’t wait until you finish your research to begin writing, and you don’t need to know everything about a subject in order to write about it. Writing and research are interconnected, and each should fuel the other. Don’t let anything stop the writing—if you are missing details, mark the spot with a quick note of what you need, keep writing and fill in the blanks later. Knowing when to stop researching is harder, but you should think carefully and make conscious decisions about what you actually need to know and what you can just make up.

KL: What’s the most creative method you’ve used to find information?

LG: I’m a strong believer in browsing and serendipity, which can lead to amazing discoveries. I spend a lot of time browsing bookstores and the Web, and I like to feed my curiosity and see where it leads. Whenever I’m looking for something in a bookstore or library, I always browse the surrounding books and nearby shelves. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found books much better than the one I was looking for or spotted something that I didn’t need at the time but later proved indispensable. Sometimes you don’t really know what you need until you stumble across it. Talking to people is another great way to uncover information—chances are you know someone or have a family member with unusual interests or expertise or who has done extraordinary things or lived through important historical events or periods.

KL: What kind of research do you do?

LG: I do whatever kind of research my clients need. Because I work with writers of fiction and nonfiction, I’ve researched a really wide range of subjects—life in Victorian London, the rich and their servants in 1930s New York City, cultural and historical trends throughout 20th-century America, American Revolutionary pamphlets and broadsides, as well as an odd miscellany of subjects for my husband (Matt Ruff), to name a few. I like working on unusual creative projects, such as when I encrypted messages into John Wilkins’ 17th-century “Real Character” symbolic language for the promotional campaign for Neal Stephenson’s historical novel “Quicksilver.” My own research is also eclectic, as I have a lot of interests and like to learn stuff, and some of it ends up in my blog.

Libraries and the Espresso Book Machine

I’ve written before about bookstores using the Espresso Book Machine to print books on demand. Thanks to Resource Shelf, I just learned that the Grace Mellman Library in Temecula, California has purchased an Espresso Book Machine with grant money as part of a program to study “the usefulness of on-demand printing to enhance library collections”:

Library patrons will now have the option to request titles, have the book printed for free, read it and return it to the library collection, or they may choose to keep the book and pay a printing fee. If the requesting patron is at the Book Espresso location and wants to pay for the book, it can be printed immediately while they wait.

“Growing our collections based upon patron on-demand choices is a new concept for our library system,” said Jan Kuebel, Manager of Grace Mellman Library. “Rather than relying solely on interlibrary loan, we now have a way to immediately respond to patron requests for materials outside of our current collection.”

Available book titles will be obtained from Lightning Source, with over 500,000 titles available, and Google Books, who has partnered with over 20,000 publishers to make their content available for on-demand printing….

I think this is great, and I only wish more libraries (and independent bookstores) could afford EBMs, as they provide instant access at a reasonable cost to a wide range of material not currently on their shelves.

I still haven’t tried out the EBMs in Seattle at the University Bookstore or Third Place Books, but I will report back when I do.

The Google Book Settlement hearing is over, and now we wait

The Google Book Settlement fairness hearing was held yesterday (February 18th). Here are some recaps of what happened:

Now it’s up to Judge Denny Chin to decide the fate of the Google Book Settlement.

For background on the GBS controversy, see my previous posts on the subject, which contain lots of links and other information.

That’s enough blogging for today– spring has come very early to Seattle, so I’m going outside to play in the sunshine.

Update, 2/20/10:  Today James Grimmelmann posted his long, detailed, and very interesting first-person report on the fairness hearing, in which he summarizes the arguments of each speaker and the questions Judge Chin asked in response.  Grimmelmann notes, “Yesterday’s fairness hearing was fascinating. Very little happened to substantively change where the case is going, but as a snapshot of the players and their positions, it was very revealing.”

Breaking news: Hachette joins Macmillan, Justice Dept. still doesn’t like the Google Book Settlement

Two pieces of breaking news tonight:

Hachette joins Macmillan

David Young, the CEO of Hachette Book Group, announced that Hachette is adopting the agency model for ebook pricing. Here’s the GalleyCat article, which includes the text of Young’s letter.

For those keeping score, there are six major U.S. publishers: Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Random House. Five of the six (all except Random House) made a deal with Apple to sell their ebooks on the iPad using the agency model. So now that Macmillan and Hachette have publicly committed to adopting the agency model for all of their ebooks (and with HarperCollins likely to as well, based on statements Rupert Murdoch made yesterday), it’s probably only a matter of time before the rest join in. But when will Amazon stop boycotting Macmillan books?

The Justice Department doesn’t like the amended Google Book Settlement, says “class certification, copyright and antitrust issues remain”

The Department of Justice submitted its views to the court on the amended Google Book Settlement. (The fairness hearing is on February 18th.)

James Grimmelmann summarizes:

The United States has filed a new Statement of Interest. The tone is balanced, but the conclusion is clear: the Department of Justice thinks the settlement is beyond the court’s authority and still problematic on antitrust grounds. It’s a careful, detailed brief, that raises fundamental objections to the settlement. These issues will not be resolved with quick patches, even if the parties were in the mood to revise and resubmit a second time.

The battle has been truly joined.

Here’s an excerpt from the press release issued by the Department of Justice:

The Department of Justice today advised the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that despite the substantial progress reflected in the proposed amended settlement agreement in The Authors Guild Inc. et al. v. Google Inc., class certification, copyright and antitrust issues remain. The department also said that the United States remains committed to working with the parties on issues concerning the scope and content of the settlement…

In its statement of interest filed with the court today, the department stated, “Although the United States believes the parties have approached this effort in good faith and the amended settlement agreement is more circumscribed in its sweep than the original proposed settlement, the amended settlement agreement suffers from the same core problem as the original agreement: it is an attempt to use the class action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the court in this litigation.”

Here’s the link to the Justice Department’s full “Statement of Interest of the United States of America.”

Here’s the New York Times article about it, noting: “While the Justice Department did not explicitly urge the court to reject the deal, as it had the previous version, its opposition on copyright, class action and antitrust grounds represented a further setback for Google and the other parties to the deal.”

For more on the Google Book Settlement, see my earlier posts.

And now for something completely different…

Today is day 7 of Amazon’s boycott of Macmillan print books and ebooks. John Scalzi summarizes the current state of affairs in a very entertaining way in his new blog post, “A Quick Interview of Me, By Me, To Catch Up With Everything Amazon.” And Matt and I spotted this today in a full-page ad in the New York Times for Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto:  “Available at booksellers everywhere except Amazon.”

I realize that not all of my readers are as obsessed with this subject as I am, so I will give you a break and blog about some other things today:

Google Book Settlement

The Google Book Settlement fairness hearing will finally be held on February 18th, and the deadline to opt out or object passed on January 28th. James Grimmelmann has been posting lots of great links about the GBS on his Laboratorium blog:

Clarion and Clarion West Writers Workshop deadlines approaching

Applications are due by March 1st for the 2010 Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, “an intensive six-week workshop for writers preparing for professional careers in science fiction and fantasy.” The 2010 workshop will run from June 20th to July 30th, and the instructors are Michael Bishop, Maureen McHugh, Nnedi Okorafor, Graham Joyce, Ellen Datlow, and Ian McDonald. See the Clarion West website for more information.

Also due by March 1st are applications for the 2010 Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UC San Diego, which runs from June 27th to August 7th. The 2010 instructors are Delia Sherman, George R.R. Martin, Dale Bailey, Samuel R. Delany, Jeff VanderMeer, and Ann VanderMeer.

Library budget cuts

Small Beer Press

Kelly Link and Gavin Grant’s Small Beer Press will bring back into print two books by writers Matt and I really like– Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life in October 2010, and Kelley Eskridge’s Solitaire in January 2011. They are joining a fine group of other writers published by Small Beer Press, including John Crowley, Elizabeth Hand, Geoff Ryman, Sean Stewart, and Kelly Link, among others.

And finally…

Introducing the iCodex:

Today, St. Stephen of Jobs announced the newest creation from the monks at Abbey Apple: the iCodex, which he believes will revolutionize the way people work and play…

With the iCodex, people can now store multiple items in one, easy-to-use package. A user could, for example, enjoy both cooking recipes and psalms, or mappa mundi and instructions on marital relations. Since the iCodex’s pages are bound together in an easy-to-turn format, things stored at the end of an iCodex are as easy to access as the beginning…

Excitement for the product could be felt all over the literate world. At the Library of Google, scribes were busy transferring hundreds of years of scrolls onto codices. “We hope to copy the entire history of human writing into codex form within the next few decades,” said Larry the Page, Google’s founder….

Go read the whole thing on Tom Elrod’s Wordism blog.

More from Project Information Literacy: “the librarian approach is based on thoroughness, while the student approach is based on efficiency”

Back in April, I wrote a long post titled “I’m shocked to discover there’s gambling in this casino…” about Project Information Literacy’s February 2009 report, “Finding Context: What Today’s College Students Say About Conducting Research in the Digital Age.” In my post I was somewhat snarky about the report, as you can see from this excerpt:

Surely it isn’t a surprise that:

* Students always procrastinate and are looking for quick and easy answers.

* Students spend an unlimited amount of time and effort on things that interest them, but do the minimum necessary on academic assignments.

* Students universally use the two tools that are the most convenient, familiar, and useful to them– Wikipedia and Google– and they will continue to do so regardless of what their professors say.

* Students don’t know or haven’t been taught how to do research, think critically, find and evaluate sources (online and in the library), and efficiently sift through the overwhelming amount of available information to find what they need.

This month Project Information Literacy released a new and more in-depth report, “Lessons Learned: How College Students Seek Information in the Digital Age”, and it offers some valuable insights and recommendations. Among the report’s conclusions:

When it came to everyday life research, nearly all of the respondents used Google, Wikipedia, and friends for finding context. Almost all of the students used course readings, [online] library resources, and public Internet sites such as Google and Wikipedia, when conducting course-related research—no matter… what resources they had at their disposal.

The relatively consistent pattern of information usage suggests that most students in our study favored a risk-averse and predictable information-seeking strategy. The student approach appears to be learned by rote and reliant on using a small set of resources nearly each and every time.

At the same time, the student approach may sometimes backfire. Using public sites on the Internet, such as Google search, early on, may be one reason why students reportedly find research frustrating in the digital age.

We have found studentsʼ frustrations and challenges involve narrowing down topics, finding relevant resources, sorting through too many results from online searches, and evaluating the credibility of what students choose to use. Still, almost all students used public Internet sites early on, despite their known limitations….

A significant majority of students in our sample–8 in 10–did not ever consult librarians for course-related research assignments. Instead, instructors played an important role in coaching students through the research process…

When it comes to finding information and conducting research, today’s students clearly favor brevity, consensus, and currency in the information sources they seek… [They] have defined their preferences for information sources in a world where credibility, veracity, and intellectual authority are less of a given–or even an expectation from students–with each passing day.

All in all, we are reminded of a comment from one student… about using books from the campus library: “Books, do I use them? Not really, they are antiquated interfaces. You have to look in an index, way in the back, and it’s not even hypertexted linked.”

Today’s students are not lazy or unthinking. This student, representing many, looks at information sources, systems, and services as to how well they meet his or her needs in terms of content, accessibility, and usefulness….

So students prefer to use web sources like Google and Wikipedia because they are fast, convenient, familiar, and produce results, meeting their needs for “content, accessibility, and usefulness.” Of all of the library resources provided to students, online scholarly research databases are used the most, as not only do instructors require their use to find credible content, but they are easy to search. Students aren’t using resources like books, even when they are better and more authoritative for academic research, because they take more time, thought, and effort to find and use, and they can’t be quickly and easily searched. This makes sense– today’s college students are digital natives.

I didn’t understand why so few students use librarians as a resource until I read about the “critical difference between the students’ approach and the librarians’ approach” to research:

“The library guide recommends beginning course-related research by using library resources to identify and narrow down a topic. These resources, the library catalog and periodical indices, are all vetted, credible, and authoritative. Only much later in the research process, and only after a topic has been safely nailed down, does the guide recommends turning to Internet resources, such as Google… The student approach is different… [They] reported using public Internet sources (i.e. Google and Wikipedia) in their initial stages of research for a variety of reasons, which included a belief that the Internet is an all-inclusive information resource… All in all, the librarian approach is based on thoroughness, while the student approach is based on efficiency. To that end, librarians suggest using scholarly resources, while many students in our study used a wide range of resources that deliver an abundance of results early on, whether they are scholarly or not. As a whole, the findings suggest that students in our sample favored sources for their brevity, consensus, and currency over other qualities and less so, for their scholarly authority.

At the end of the report, the authors make a series of recommendations, of which I thought these were particularly important:

Course-related research assignments should not indirectly encourage students to half-heartedly engage in a narrow exploration of the digital landscape (e.g., assignments that state requirements such as, “must use five sources cited in your paper”). Administrators, faculty, and librarians should examine whether research-based assignments result in opening studentsʼ minds to expand their information-gathering competencies. Instead, we recommend that students be given course-related research assignments that encourage the collection, analysis, and synthesis of multiple viewpoints from a variety of sources, so the transfer of information literacy and critical thinking competencies may be more actively called up, practiced, and learned by students…

Our work leads us to draw an important distinction between library services and library resources… For the most part, in our study, librarians were left out of the student research workflow, despite librariansʼ vast training and expertise in finding information. Librarians should systematically (not just anecdotally) examine the services they provide to students… Questions should be addressed about how and why services and resources are used—not only how often (e.g., circulation or reference desk statistics). Librarians may want to initiate their analysis by asking what percentage of their campus are using the library, for what particular resources or services, and why or why not?

So what do you think? How can we expand the minds and research methods of digital natives? We can’t convert all information to digital form, so are there ways to pry them away from their computers and into the stacks? Should we even try? Rather than trying to change the ways they do research, should we instead focus on teaching them to improve their web search skills and find and evaluate digital sources? Can we provide better or more authoritative alternatives to Wikipedia and Google, or make it easier to find academic sources with one search? How can we make academic research more interesting and creative for students?

I welcome your comments and ideas.

Google Book Deal 2.0

Late last night the revised Google Book settlement was filed with the court.

So what’s changed? From the New York Times:

The revisions to the settlement primarily address the handling of so-called orphan works, the millions of books whose rights holders are unknown or cannot be found. The changes call for the appointment of an independent fiduciary, or trustee, who will be solely responsible for decisions regarding orphan works.

The trustee, with Congressional approval, can grant licenses to other companies who also want to sell these books, and will oversee the pool of unclaimed funds that they generate. If the money goes unclaimed for 10 years, according to the revised settlement, it will go to philanthropy and to an effort to locate rights holders. In the original settlement, unclaimed funds reverted to known rights holders after five years.

The changes also restrict the Google catalog to books published in the United States, Britain, Australia or Canada. That move is intended to resolve objections from the French and German governments, which complained that the settlement did not abide by copyright law in those countries.

The revised settlement could make it easier for other companies to compete with Google in offering their own digitized versions of older library books because it drops a provision that was widely interpreted as ensuring that no other company could get a better deal with authors and publishers than the one Google had struck.

Google’s blog post about the revised settlement has links to their summary of the changes and FAQ.

James Grimmelman has a detailed analysis of the revised settlement and notes: “My instant reaction is that it makes a number of meaningful, if modest, improvements, but leaves unaddressed the central issue that led me to worry about the settlement in the first place.”

The Open Book Alliance is, of course, unhappy with the revised settlement:

Open Book Alliance co-chair Peter Brantley said, “Our initial review of the new proposal tells us that Google and its partners are performing a sleight of hand; fundamentally, this settlement remains a set-piece designed to serve the private commercial interests of Google and its partners. None of the proposed changes appear to address the fundamental flaws illuminated by the Department of Justice and other critics that impact public interest. By performing surgical nip and tuck, Google, the AAP, and the AG are attempting to distract people from their continued efforts to establish a monopoly over digital content access and distribution; usurp Congress’s role in setting copyright policy; lock writers into their unsought registry, stripping them of their individual contract rights; put library budgets and patron privacy at risk; and establish a dangerous precedent by abusing the class action process.”

Resource Shelf has an excellent  link roundup and press review here.

Judge Denny Chin will soon announce the timeline for the notice period, objection hearing, and final fairness hearing.

I’m sure the debate will rage across the blogosphere in the days and weeks to come.

Update, 11/15: James Grimmelman has posted the proposed GBS schedule on his Laboratorium blog:

* Notice begins: Monday, December 14, 2009.

* Opt-out/objection/amicus deadline: Thursday, January 28, 2010 (45 days later).

* DOJ files its response: Thursday, February 4, 2010 (7 days later).

* Plaintiffs move for final approval: Thursday, February 11, 2010 (7 days later).

* Final fairness hearing: Thursday, February 18, 2010 (7 days later).

Link salad

Sorry for the lack of blogging, but I’ve been unusually busy of late. Here’s a round-up of some of the links I’ve collected over the past week or two.

Sergey Brin’s op-ed in the New York Times defending the Google Books settlement, “A Library to Last Forever”:

Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.

I laughed out loud when I read this. As far as I know, all libraries have online catalogues so you can check their holdings remotely, and many have interlibrary loan programs. And has this man never heard of a used bookstore? You can even search for millions of out-of-print books on sites like Bookfinder, buy them online and have them mailed to your home.

Here’s Pamela Samuelson’s response in The Huffington Post, “Google Books in Not a Library.”

And Chris Thompson’s response in Slate, “Sergey Brin Blows Smoke Up Your Ass.”

And the Open Book Alliance’s response.

Chris Thompson’s East Bay Express article “The Case Against Google Books,” about Peter Brantley, Pamela Samuelson, and Geoff Nunberg and their opposition to the Google Books settlement.

Lewis Hyde’s New York Times Book Review essay on orphan works: “There are millions of them out there, and they are gumming up the world of publishing…. [When] Carnegie Mellon University tried to digitize a collection of out-of-print books, one of every five turned out to be orphaned. When Cornell tried to post a collection of agricultural monographs online, half were orphans. The United States Holocaust Museum owns millions of pages of archival documents that it can neither publish nor digitize.”

Sam Roberts’ New York Times article about the Leon Levy Foundation’s grants to institutions to “preserve and digitize their archival collections and to make them available online to scholars and to the public.” This could uncover many historical treasures that have been locked away in uncatalogued archives.

Michael Ruane’s Washington Post article, “WWII GI Returns Books Taken from Germany Six Decades Ago,” with “anti-Nazi librarians hiding their books.”

Motoko Rich’s New York Times article about library ebooks, in which “some publishers worry that the convenience of borrowing books electronically could ultimately cut into sales of print editions.”

Survival of the Book’s post on the Entertainment Weekly Q&A with Dacre Stoker about the Dracula sequel: “We grew up thinking, Isn’t it too bad that the copyright was lost in the 1930s?… When [the vampire craze] was just beginning to pick up, we said, ‘You know what? We better get this thing done.'”

From Letters of Note, a 1777 Revolutionary War “masked letter.”

And yes, I know I missed Banned Books Week, but you can still read my post from last year, “Girls lean back everywhere….”

Someone other than Google is digitizing and selling public domain library books

Last month I blogged about Google partnering with the makers of the Espresso Book Machine to print 2 million public domain works on demand. Yesterday DigitalKoans reported that the New York Public Library has joined the Kirtas Technologies Digitize-on-Demand program to digitize and sell public domain works. Here’s an excerpt from the Kirtas press release:

Readers and researchers looking for hard-to-find books now have the opportunity to dip into the collections of one of the world’s most comprehensive libraries to purchase digitized copies of public domain titles. Through their Digitize-on-Demand program, Kirtas Technologies has partnered with The New York Public Library to make 500,000 public domain works from the Library’s collections available (to anyone in the world).

“New technology has allowed the Library to greatly expand access to its collections,” said Paul LeClerc, President of The New York Public Library. “Now, for the first time, library users are able to order copies of specific items from our vast public domain collections that are useful to them. Additionally the program creates a digital legacy for future users of the same item and a revenue stream to support our operations. We are very pleased to participate in a program that is so beneficial to everyone involved.”

Using existing information from NYPL’s catalog records, Kirtas will make the library’s public domain books available for sale through its retail site before they are ever digitized. Customers can search for a desired title on http://www.kirtasbooks.com and place an order for that book. When the order is placed, only then is it pulled from the shelf, digitized and made available as a high-quality reprint or digital file.

What makes this approach to digitization unique is that NYPL incurs no up-front printing, production or storage costs. It also provides the library with a self-funding, commercial model helping it to sustain its digitization programs in the future. Unlike other free or low-cost digitization programs, the library retains the rights and ownership to their own digitized content…

Kirtas currently has 13 partnerships with universities and public libraries to make special collections available for sale online. Virtually any library with a modern records database and valuable collections can participate in the Digitize on Demand program.

This is an interesting model, as books don’t have to be scanned until someone requests a copy, unlike Google’s random and expensive “scan first” method. But the Kirtas Books website (www.kirtasbooks.com) is surprisingly clunky, unattractive, and awkward to use, and it looks like it takes 3 to 4 weeks to have a book scanned (books that have already been scanned are available for instant download). For the titles I’ve browsed, digital files are $1.95, paperbacks are an additional $8.05, and hardcovers are an additional $18.05. The powerful and easy to use Google Book Search (and its free digital files of public domain works) wins hands down, so I don’t see myself using Kirtas Books unless I want a copy of a work that Google hasn’t yet scanned.

Update: A commenter has noted that the book scans done by Kirtas Books are much better than those done by Google. If that’s true, then I may have been too quick to assume that I wouldn’t order from Kirtas unless I couldn’t get something from Google. I should order some books from both Kirtas and the Espresso Book Machine and compare them. (I stand by my criticisms of the Kirtas Books website, and its limited search capabilities don’t compare to Google Book Search. The long wait to have a book scanned is still a problem, as I’m usually under time pressure when doing research for others.)

Google Books settlement being revised, plaintiffs want October 7th hearing rescheduled

Breaking news from James Grimmelmann’s blog:

The author and publisher plaintiffs filed a motion to adjourn the [October 7th Google Books settlement] fairness hearing, together with a short supporting memorandum. Google does not oppose the motion. The executive summary:

* The parties are renegotiating the settlement (with each other and the DOJ).

* The issues are too complex to present a revised settlement by October 7.

* They’ve requested a status conference for November 6 to discuss a future schedule, so they may have a revised settlement by then.

* The parties don’t yet know whether the changes will require a renotice.

This is clearly the result of the Department of Justice’s recommendation that the settlement be rejected by the court and renegotiated. (See my previous blog post for more information and links.)

Update: Reaction from the Open Book Alliance:

This is a huge victory for the many people and organizations who raised significant concerns that this settlement did not serve the public interest, stifled innovation, and restricted competition. It’s also an enormous loss for Google, which had been saying for months that no changes were necessary to the settlement. Now, that settlement, as we know it, is dead.

Justice Department recommends the Google Books settlement be rejected and renegotiated

Late last night the U.S. Department of Justice filed a 32-page “statement of interest” regarding the proposed Google Books settlement.  In short, the DOJ recommends that:

This Court should reject the Proposed Settlement in its current form and encourage the parties to continue negotiations to modify it so as to comply with Rule 23 and the copyright and antitrust laws.

This Resource Shelf post has a long link roundup of news reports and reactions. Here’s today’s New York Times article about it.

Law Professor James Grimmelmann has posted a detailed summary and explanation of the DOJ filing in his Laboratorium blog, which begins:

This is a really, really good brief. The Department of Justice appreciates both the potential and the dangers of the settlement. They’re clearly trying to lay the groundwork for a constructive way forward, while protecting copyright owners and competition.

The DoJ, speaking on behalf of the United States, has two broad areas of concern: fairness to copyright owner class members and protecting competition. It also strongly notes the public benefits from making out-of-print works more available, from creating accessible versions for the disabled, and from expanding distribution options for books. Their bottom line is that the settlement as it now stands is untenable, but that with modifications, it could be much better. It indicates that the parties are trying to negotiate (with each other and with the DoJ, it would appear) some of those changes, and the DoJ gives the court suggestions for how it ought to encourage the parties along….

Grimmelmann’s blog is a great source for detailed information about the Google Books controversy, with lots of useful links and interesting analysis.

The fairness hearing on the settlement is on October 7th. The court has received over 400 written filings in the case, and The Public Index has a list and links to them. These include objections, amicus briefs, letters of support, and letters raising concerns, from corporations, organizations, libraries, universities, publishers, individual authors, and even countries.

Here are a few other links I’ve been collecting over the past few weeks:

Here are links to my previous blog posts about the Google Books settlement.

“…an ATM for books”: Google partners with the Espresso Book Machine to print public domain books on demand

According to this press release, Google has signed an agreement with On Demand Books, the maker of the Espresso Book Machine, giving them access to over 2 million public-domain works that have been scanned and converted to digital files as part of the Google Book Search project.

This Wired post about the partnership notes that the $100,000 Espresso Book Machine:

…cranks out a 300 page gray-scale [paperback] book with a color cover in about 4 minutes, at a cost to the bookstore of about $3 for materials. The machine prints the pages, binds them together perfectly, and then cuts the book to size and then dumps a book out, literally hot off the press, with a satisfying clunk. (The company says a machine can print about 60,000 books a year.)…

On Demand Books suggests that book stores price the books at about $8, leaving retailers with a $3 profit after both Google and On Demand Books collect a buck-a-book fee. Google plans to donate its share to a yet-unspecified charity, which might be a reaction to its messy legal and public policy fight over a copyright settlement that covers books that are still in copyright. (All the books that are being added to On Demand Books repertoire in this agreement are out of copyright in the country where it will be printed.)

Paul Constant, the books editor of The Stranger, posted the news today that Third Place Books, a large independent bookstore in the Seattle area, is getting an Espresso Book Machine in November. Here’s a list of all of the places that have them.

I love the idea of being able to produce physical copies of public domain books on demand at a reasonable price, but I suspect this may have a terrible impact on the used and antiquarian book market.

Update: The Inside Google Books blog has posted this video of the Espresso Book Machine in action:

“…those lost books of the last century can be brought back to life and made searchable, discoverable, and citable…”

Thanks to DigitalKoans for calling attention to an interesting essay by Tim Barton, president of Oxford University Press, titled “Saving Texts From Oblivion: Oxford U. Press on the Google Book Settlement.” Here’s an excerpt:

In describing books, the Scottish-American classicist Gilbert Arthur Highet once wrote, “These are not lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves.” In a world in which students consult not shelves but keyboards, too many of those lively minds remain out of sight, exiled to those shelves, where, every year, there is a virtual conflagration not unlike the fire at the ancient library at Alexandria, as last copies of precious books crumble slowly to dust, or are damaged, stolen, or lost.

What once seemed at least debatable has now become irrefutable: If it’s not online, it’s invisible. While increasing numbers of long-out-of-date, public-domain books are now fully and freely available to anyone with a browser, the vast majority of the scholarship published in book form over the last 80 years is today largely overlooked by students, who limit their research to what can be discovered on the Internet… [T]he vast majority of the scholarship published since 1923 (the date before which titles are in the public domain in the United States) is now effectively out of reach to the modern student….

It has taken many months for the import of the [Google Book] settlement to become clear. It is exceedingly complex, and its design — the result of two years of negotiations, including not just the parties but libraries as well — is, not surprisingly, imperfect. It can and should be improved. But after long months of grappling with it, what has become clear to us is that it is a remarkable and remarkably ambitious achievement.

It provides a means whereby those lost books of the last century can be brought back to life and made searchable, discoverable, and citable. That aim aligns seamlessly with the aims of a university press. It is good for readers, authors, and publishers — and, yes, for Google. If it succeeds, readers will gain access to an unprecedented amount of previously lost material, publishers will get to disseminate their work — and earn a return from their past investments — and authors will find new readers (and royalties). If it fails, the majority of lost books will be unlikely ever to see the light of day, which would constitute an enormous setback for scholarly communication and education.

The settlement is a step forward in solving the problem of “orphan works,” titles that are in copyright but whose copyright holders are elusive, meaning that no rightsholder can be found to grant permission for a title’s use. For such books, a professor cannot include a chapter in a course pack for students; a publisher cannot include an excerpt in an anthology; and no one can offer a print or an electronic copy for sale. Making those books available again is a clear public good. Google’s having exclusive rights to use them, as enshrined in the current settlement, however, is not….

First and foremost, the settlement is about discovery: a basic restoration of books to our literary landscape that enables readers to find what they once would have missed…  Many publishers will not have the mission nor the means to overcome the formidable obstacles involved in giving their print backlists an online life. But whether the lost scholarship is made available through the settlement or also through the activities of publishers, the means may be different, but the end is the same. The settlement gets authors, readers, and publishers farther and faster than if we had been left solely to our own devices….

To be clear, as noted above, the settlement is certainly not perfect and the solution to dealing with orphan works is particularly problematic: Google should not have the exclusive ability to exploit those works, and further refinement is needed to ensure that the Book Rights Registry can license those titles to others besides Google. Yet it also seems more likely that orphan-works legislation will be forthcoming if the settlement goes ahead. And it is important that all of the participants to the settlement, and especially Google, should now publicly commit themselves to supporting the needed new legislation in meaningful ways. We may also find the orphan-works issue diminishing in scale over time, as rightsholders come forward, should the program be successful….

We cannot now predict all of the places where the settlement will take us, which should make us understandably cautious. But even as we debate the important issues surrounding it, we must not shirk our responsibility to take forward-thinking, tangible steps now — today — by conjuring perilous futures and retreating to the safety of inaction and paralysis….

So we at Oxford University Press support the settlement, even as we recognize its imperfections and want it made better. As Voltaire said, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien,” the perfect is the enemy of the good. Let us not waste an opportunity to create so much good. Let us work together to solve the imperfections of the settlement. Let us work together to give students, scholars, and readers access to the written wisdom of previous generations. Let us keep those minds alive.

The full essay appears on the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“The small details of common life give actuality, aliveness, and thickness to a historical story…”

John Crowley, the author I blogged about last month, has written an excellent essay for the Powell’s Books website on doing historical research for his new novel, Four Freedoms. Here’s an excerpt:

How much did a condom cost in 1944? What did the package look like? Where could one be bought? Were there machines in the toilets (we called them toilets) of bars, as there were in the late 1950s? I was writing a novel about the U.S. home front in World War II (Four Freedoms, just out), and I needed to know. Why not just skip the detail, and say, “He bought a condom” or “He produced a condom”? Because the small details of common life give actuality, aliveness, and thickness to a historical story in the same way they do to a present-day story. The difference is you have to go find the details of the past; you can’t just draw on experience.

The writers of historical fictions, just like real historians, do (or ought to do) a huge amount of research before beginning on their works, and then continue doing research until the very end. They are, however, often looking for different stuff. The reasons for things, the reasons that people believed they had for acting as they did, the forces pressing on them that they dimly grasped or didn’t, a chronology that puts cause before effect — that (I imagine) is what the historian spends her research time looking for. Except when tiny details of action matter very much (at exactly what hour was that telegram sent?), the minutiae of dress and dinner, how a character spent his morning or evening, the maker of her gown and how much it cost, aren’t the goal. The fiction researcher’s work is the opposite, or mirror image (as historical fiction is the mirror of history — the same stuff but not). What the fiction researcher wants is masses of actual detail, whether pertaining to his characters (if his characters are historical) or to others like them. He cares less what everybody did, or what masses of people did, than about what was possible to do. He cares less about what an actual person did than what any person could have done: could someone like the one I am imagining have thought this thought, owned this gun, remembered this event, worn this hat? He needs the stuff to help him make a world of the past that is as believable as one made out of the present.

Of course, writers of fiction can be more or less conscientious about their research. (Though, they can’t be exposed as frauds if they get the details, or even the big picture, wrong; they start out as frauds.) Some care a lot, others less; Walter Scott, who in a sense invented the historical novel, often footnoted his stories, to back up his inventions with evidence. Fiction writers can always claim that detailed research is unnecessary or peripheral to their work — but they can no longer claim that it’s too hard. I don’t know if the Internet in all its glory and some of its shame has changed things utterly for professional historians — if it has, they may not be telling — but it has made research for a writer of historical fiction a piece of cake: that sweet, that delightful, that filling.

And it’s not only Google and Project Gutenberg and JSTOR. I used those tools almost every day, following leads from place to place and having strange adventures with collectors, memoirists, visionaries, merchants, and obsessives (try writing anything about old cars, railroads, airplanes, World War II, or comic books, without turning them up). But I also had the help of the readers of my blog (John Crowley Little and Big on Live Journal), who are an inordinately smart bunch, I think, and ready to go look things up and bring them in. We’ve had some wonderful interchanges — like the time I needed to know how much a condom cost in 1944…

The great danger in all historical research, for the lover of trivia and oddity, is distraction; it’s one of the rewards, too….

You can read the whole essay, titled “The Accu-Thump of Googletarity,” here.

Google and antitrust and censorship, oh my!

Lots of interesting book-related news, articles, and posts over the last week or so:

The controversy over Google Book Search

In the months since the Google Book Search settlement was announced, there has been a lot of commentary, criticism, and debate about it.  If you’d like to read more about the controversy, below is a collection of links to some interesting articles, essays, and blog posts.  (Here’s my original October 28, 2008 post on the subject right after the settlement was announced. My initial reaction was very positive, but I do have some concerns and opinions which I’ll save for a future post. )

New York Times articles:

April 4, 2009 article, “Google’s plan for out-of-print books is challenged.”

February 1, 2009 article, “Some fear Google’s power in digital books.”

January 4, 2009 article, “Google hopes to open a trove of little-seen books.”

October 28, 2008 article, “Google settles suit over book-scanning.”

Commentary and criticism:

Walt Crawford’s “Perspective: The Google Books Settlement,” a 30-page analysis and summary of commentary by others in the March 2009 Cites & Insights newsletter.

Robert Darnton’s  “Google & the Future of Books” in the New York Review of Books (February 12, 2009), and letters in response to Darnton’s essay.

Jonathan Grimmelmann’s “How to Fix the Google Book Search Settlement” in the April 2009 Journal of Internet Law.

Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Reader’s Guide to the Google Book Search Settlement.”

Jonathan Band’s “A Guide for the Perplexed: Libraries and the Google Library Project Settlement” (November 2008).

Charlie Petit’s commentary on his Scrivner’s Error blog.

In March 2009 a conference was held at Columbia Law School called “The Google Books Settlement: What Will it Mean for the Long Term?” The blog Open Access News has a summary of blog comments about the conference. More on the conference from the LibraryLaw Blog (part 1 and part 2).

If you have any link suggestions or opinions you’d like to share, please do so in the comments to this post.

I’m shocked to discover there’s gambling in this casino…

I recently read the February 2009 Project Information Literacy Progress Report from the Information School at the University of Washington, titled “Finding Context: What Today’s College Students Say about Conducting Research in the Digital Age.”

The goal of the project is to “understand how early adults conceptualize and operationalize research activities for course work and ‘everyday use’ and especially how they resolve issues of credibility, authority, relevance, and currency in the digital age.”

While I admire these goals and am obviously interested in the subject, I wasn’t surprised by the findings, and I found some of the quotes from students unintentionally funny.

The report begins by asking:

What is it like to be a college student in the digital age? In a world teeming with information technology and overflowing with access to data, how do students find the information they need? How do students conduct research for course-related assignments? How do they conduct research for use in their everyday lives? What frustrations and obstacles do they encounter? What strategies have students developed to meet their information needs?

Their conclusion?

So far, we have found that no matter where students are enrolled, no matter what information resources they may have at their disposal, and no matter how much time they have, the abundance of information technology and the proliferation of digital information resources make conducting research uniquely paradoxical: Research seems to be far more difficult to conduct in the digital age than it did in previous times… In general, students reported being challenged, confused, and frustrated by the research process, despite the convenience, relative ease, or ubiquity of the Internet. In our sessions, frustrations included the effects of information overload and being inundated with resources, but more. Participants also reported having particular difficulty traversing a vast and every-changing information landscape. Specifically, participants greatest challenges were related to finding the materials they desired, knew existed, and needed on a “just in time” basis.

Some specific findings:

  • Students treat everyday life research and course-related research differently, and they put a lot more time and effort into the former. “Students reported that searches for everyday life information could last for days, and were driven by curiosity, as students clicked on Google results or Wikipedia citations and unfolded layers of information.”
  • Students “reported almost twice as many frustrations, overall, with conducting course-related research than with everday life research, though the nature or type of participants’ frustrations had underlying similarities.” Everyday life frustrations included: too many results from a Google search and the need to sort through them; knowing the “answer” is online but not being able to find it; figuring out whether a source is credible; knowing that everything is not online; and never can find enough information on the obscure topic being searched. Course-related frustrations included: information overload; too much irrelevant information, can’t locate what is needed from online results; trying to find the “perfect” source; not knowing what to look for, yet still sifting through articles that might fit; trouble finding books needed on library shelves; and conducting research to meet another’s expectations.
  • Students begin their course-related research with Wikipedia. They begin their everyday life research with Google, followed by blogs and Wikipedia.
  • “The majority of the students we interviewed did not start on an assignment–thinking about it, researching, or writing–until two or three days before it was due.”

The study authors note that for students, conducting research “may feel a lot like being an inexperienced sailor heading directly into an oncoming wind, sails wildly flapping, and not being able to maneuver and get to a desired destination.” They believe this is because students are struggling to “find context,” and they go on to describe four types of context students seek: big picture; language, situational, information gathering.

But what do students do to find context? They use Wikipedia, despite its flaws and warnings from their professors. “We found the majority of students ignored the negatives and went to the site anyway. Most students depended on and used Wikipedia for information cited in papers, but just never included Wikipedia entries on their Works Cited page. In our sessions, students also discussed concerns over Wikipedia and accuracy. However, most participants believed that they, themselves, had the ability to discern the credibility of a Wikipedia source, based on their ‘gut level’ interpretation of Wikipedia’s rating system.”

Surely it isn’t a surprise that:

  • Students always procrastinate and are looking for quick and easy answers.
  • Students spend an unlimited amount of time and effort on things that interest them, but do the minimum necessary on academic assignments.
  • Students universally use the two tools that are the most convenient, familiar, and useful to them– Wikipedia and Google– and they will continue to do so regardless of what their professors say.
  • Students don’t know or haven’t been taught how to do research, think critically, find and evaluate sources (online and in the library), and efficiently sift through the overwhelming amount of available information to find what they need.

I wrote in my very first blog post, “Research is like treasure hunting, and to do it well you must be skeptical, curious, discriminating, persistent, and willing to look beneath the surface.” Research also requires time and patience, but it is a skill that can be learned with a little knowledge and practice. However, research is much easier to do when motivated by a love of learning, intellectual curiosity, and passion for your subject, rather than obligation.  Even I don’t like researching subjects I find boring. So while we clearly need to teach students how to do research, we should also be giving them assignments that not only educate them, but also interest and inspire them.

A fascinating post last month in the blog In the Library with the Lead Pipe gave a librarian’s perspective on this, discussing some of the “questionable assignments” given to students by well-meaning faculty members:

Every semester there is at least one assignment that comes across my reference desk that makes me throw my hands up in exasperation (such as: a scavenger hunt that was written before we moved much of our content online or the requirement that the student must have at least one print source, library databases and ebooks do not count)…

We kept getting students who had the same (admirable) weekly assignment: find and read a newspaper article covering the event they were studying that week. The article (or possibly other primary source document) had to have been written during the time of the event and from the perspective of the people involved. We had been doing fine helping them find historical and foreign papers as needed, until they came to the Ottoman Empire. And it didn’t stop there. The class was a survey of world history. They continued to have topics that simply might not have ever been documented by the people involved, unlikely in newspaper article form, certainly not in English, and may not have ever been translated into English if it did manage to get written down and preserved. African events were also particularly difficult…

Scavenger hunt assignments are frustrating for everyone. Looking up trivia is not the same as conducting research and without a meaningful application of the process of using the library anything they learn through the scavenger hunt is less likely to stick…

Often the student, the faculty, or both don’t differentiate between the free web and resources that the library has purchased, but are available electronically…

Librarians are on the front lines of this battle, and both students and faculty would benefit from using them more as a resource.

It looks like I now have lots of subjects for future blog posts…

Great news about Google Book Search

Like everyone else, I use Google dozens of times a day. Their web search engine is still the best I’ve found, but Google also has a number of more specialized search functions that I like and use regularly. By far my favorite is Google Book Search, which is not one of the main functions listed on Google’s home page, but it will appear if you click the “more” link.

Google Book Search enables you to search the full texts of all of the books stored in its database, which is made up of books scanned from the collections of cooperating libraries (including Harvard University, Oxford University, and the New York Public Library, to name a few) and digital book files submitted by publishers. For books in the public domain (published in the U.S. before 1923), you can read as much of the text as you like online, download a PDF file of the entire book, and print as many pages as you want. For books still under copyright, if the author or publisher has given permission, you may be able to view a limited number of pages (though you cannot print or copy any of the text), but most books are restricted to only a few lines or no preview at all. Google displays detailed information about each book, and you can see a list of libraries that have it or buy a copy from an online bookstore.

I love Google Book Search because it helps me discover extremely useful and interesting books of all kinds– old and new, in-print and out-of-print, primary and secondary sources, and valuable sources of information long neglected or forgotten. I love having instant access to complete works in the public domain that are out of print and not available through my local libraries. I love being able to search the texts of millions of books simultaneously for words or phrases– names, places, dates, subjects, titles, historical events, etc.

Google Book Search has always been controversial because it scans books still under copyright without obtaining permission from the authors and publishers, and Google has been sued by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over it. The great news is, according to Publishers Weekly, the lawsuits have been settled, and everyone wins– millions of books under copyright will be searchable online, there will be a way to purchase full online access to many copyrighted works, the full texts of out-of-print books will be viewable for free on library computer terminals, authors and publishers will control whether or not their works are included and share in the revenue generated through online access to their works, a nonprofit Book Rights Registry will be set up, etc. As both a researcher and the wife of an author, I am thrilled.

Here are excerpts from the AAP statement detailing the settlement:

The Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and Google today announced a groundbreaking settlement agreement on behalf of a broad class of authors and publishers worldwide that would expand online access to millions of in-copyright books and other written materials in the U.S. from the collections of a number of major U.S. libraries participating in Google Book Search….

The agreement promises to benefit readers and researchers, and enhance the ability of authors and publishers to distribute their content in digital form, by significantly expanding online access to works through Google Book Search, an ambitious effort to make millions of books searchable via the Web. The agreement acknowledges the rights and interests of copyright owners, provides an efficient means for them to control how their intellectual property is accessed online and enables them to receive compensation for online access to their works.

If approved by the court, the agreement would provide:

  • More Access to Out-of-Print Books — Generating greater exposure for millions of in-copyright works, including hard-to-find out-of-print books, by enabling readers in the U.S. to search these works and preview them online;
  • Additional Ways to Purchase Copyrighted Books — Building off publishers’ and authors’ current efforts and further expanding the electronic market for copyrighted books in the U.S., by offering users the ability to purchase online access to many in-copyright books;
  • Institutional Subscriptions to Millions of Books Online — Offering a means for U.S. colleges, universities and other organizations to obtain subscriptions for online access to collections from some of the world’s most renowned libraries;
  • Free Access From U.S. Libraries — Providing free, full-text, online viewing of millions of out-of-print books at designated computers in U.S. public and university libraries; and
  • Compensation to Authors and Publishers and Control Over Access to Their Works — Distributing payments earned from online access provided by Google and, prospectively, from similar programs that may be established by other providers, through a newly created independent, not-for-profit Book Rights Registry that will also locate rightsholders, collect and maintain accurate rightsholder information, and provide a way for rightsholders to request inclusion in or exclusion from the project.

Under the agreement, Google will make payments totaling $125 million. The money will be used to establish the Book Rights Registry, to resolve existing claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees. The settlement agreement resolves… lawsuits [that] challenged Google’s plan to digitize, search and show snippets of in-copyright books and to share digital copies with libraries without the explicit permission of the copyright owner.

Holders worldwide of U.S. copyrights can register their works with the Book Rights Registry and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales, ad revenues and other possible revenue models, as well as a cash payment if their works have already been digitized.

Libraries at the Universities of California, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Stanford have provided input into the settlement and expect to participate in the project, including by making their collections available. Along with a number of other U.S. libraries that currently work with Google, their significant efforts to preserve, maintain and provide access to books have played a critical role in achieving this agreement and, through their anticipated participation, they are furthering such efforts while making books even more accessible to students, researchers and readers in the U.S. It is expected that additional libraries in the U.S. will participate in this project in the future….

“It’s hard work writing a book, and even harder work getting paid for it,” said Roy Blount Jr., President of the Authors Guild. “As a reader and researcher, I’ll be delighted to stop by my local library to browse the stacks of some of the world’s great libraries. As an author, well, we appreciate payment when people use our work. This deal makes good sense.”

“This historic settlement is a win for everyone,” said Richard Sarnoff, Chairman of the Association of American Publishers. “From our perspective, the agreement creates an innovative framework for the use of copyrighted material in a rapidly digitizing world, serves readers by enabling broader access to a huge trove of hard-to-find books, and benefits the publishing community by establishing an attractive commercial model that offers both control and choice to the rightsholder.”

“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Today, together with the authors, publishers, and libraries, we have been able to make a great leap in this endeavor,” said Sergey Brin, co-founder & president of technology at Google. “While this agreement is a real win-win for all of us, the real victors are all the readers. The tremendous wealth of knowledge that lies within the books of the world will now be at their fingertips.”

Updates:

Here is Google’s blog post about the settlement.

Here the future changes to Google Book Search resulting from the agreement are explained.