Comparative reviews

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 1 December 2004




Bawden, D. (2004), "Comparative reviews", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 60 No. 6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Comparative reviews

A Librarian’s Guide to the Internet: Searching and EvaluatingJeanne Froidevaux MüllerChandos PublishingOxford2003ISBN 1843340569

Google: The Missing ManualSarah Milstein and Rael DornfestO’ReillySebastopol, CA2004ISBN 0596006136

Keywords: Internet, Information retrieval, Search engines, Portals

Review DOI 10.1108/00220410410568214

A librarian’s guide to the Internet and Google

The Internet is now central to the “information lives” of most professional people and students in the developed world, and of increasing significance to the rest of humanity. “To google” is now, seemingly, a recognised verb in the English language. Books on the Internet, for “all sorts and conditions of men”, and not least the library/information community, abound. The two books reviewed here – one aimed at information professionals and dealing with the Internet generally, and one explicating a specific Internet tool for a wider audience – give an insight into the kind of skills and perspectives which authors and publishers believe that we need in a Web-oriented world. A comparison of the two raises questions as to what these really are, particularly for the information specialist.

Like all the books in the Chandos Information Professional series, Müller’s short (188-page) text is intended as an easy-to-read and practical guide for the busy information professional. It is, its author tells us, aimed at “librarians and other information professionals who have very little experience of working with the Internet”. Are there many such people, at least in the English-speaking world? The publisher, presumably, thinks so. A secondary audience is those library/information specialists who have some knowledge of the Internet, but who may find some useful hints and tips in the book. That is likely to be all of us: the Internet is an information environment of such complexity and changing nature that it is hard to believe that anyone truly knows it all.

Milstein and Dornfest have a simpler definition of their audience: both those who are new to the Web and also Internet aficianados will benefit, they claim, from their book in getting more out of Google. It is hard to dispute this claim. I leant a great deal about good use of Google from this book, and I suspect that only a few experts can truly claim to know it all. How many of the readers of JDOC, I wonder, appreciate that Google’s PageRank algorithm is named after Mr Page ? In fairness, the book goes much deeper than the trivia, covering basic and advanced searching, queries for news sources and for images, and on to the Google directory, Google groups, and the human-mediated Google Answers service. The rest of the book deals with shopping via the Froogle option, setting Google up on one’s own site, attracting the attention of Google to index a site, and even making money from Google.

This focus on a single program, albeit one of such significance, has its drawbacks, to counterbalance the fact that the book will teach its readers just about everything significant they may need to know about Google. The big loss is context. Three pages out of 300 are devoted to what Google will not do, and these are mainly devoted to its limitations for particular kinds of files or data. Nor is there much mention of judging the quality of what is found; this seems to be something that the Googler is just supposed to be able to do.

By contrast, Müller’s book is long on context, if sometimes short in detail: the 17 pages devoted to Google are the most given to any single program or source. However, there is much more on alternative ways of finding information, and on evaluation and “best use” of sources and resources. The longest chapter of the book deals with all the major search tools: search engines, exemplified by Google; metasearch engines; directories and gateways; and the so-called “invisible Web” of databases and the like. This is a good overview, helpful to those unacquainted with these tools, and also a useful “refresher” for those confused by the variety of tools available. Sensibly, there is no pretence made that reading this material will create a “super searcher”. Unlike the Google book, this seems to be aiming at promoting basic competence.

A chapter on interpretation of results follows, based around a discussion of the “classic” criteria used for evaluation: accuracy; authority; objectivity; currency; coverage; access; and design. These are clearly stated and discussed, and are complemented by examples of checklists of such length and detail that it must be doubted that anything of this sort would be used in practice by the “busy information professional” who is supposed to be reading the book; still, they act as useful reminders of good practice. Their quiet thoughtfulness and detail forms a nice comparison with the sometime hyperactive tone of Milstein and Dornfest.

Other comparisons can be made. Müller uses mainly UK examples (intriguingly so, for an author from Continental Europe), but – even allowing for my national bias – I think they would accessible to a wider audience. The Google book is remorselessly US-oriented, and this has a more serious effect that a blank reaction to references to baseball and to American television personalities. Sometimes the reader cannot tell whether only US search facilities are available, or that others not mentioned, as in the cases of telephone numbers, patent numbers, and area codes.

So: two rather different books, with rather different styles, and seemingly addressing different audiences. It is tempting, and perhaps reasonable, to summarise their relative advantages by saying that Müller’s book is suitable for the Internet novice, Milstein and Dornfest to those who are a little more advanced. What is perhaps of concern is that the title and series orientation of Müller suggests that this is all “librarians”, and by implication other information specialists, need to know; leave the clever Google tricks to the “techies”. This seems to me an unfortunate, and potential dangerous viewpoint. If LIS people claim some expertise in information seeking and in finding information resources, then they should be at least as expert in the use of tools like Google as the best of their users. Milstein and Dornfest have given a very good toll to enable them to make a start. But, unless they already have some expertise, they would do well to read Müller first; and recommend that book to techies and users alike.

David Bawden City University, London, UK

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