The Original Google

Google revolutionized the way we search for information. From silly to serious, Google helps us find out (more) about that which we wanted to learn.

It has also ruined playing board games such as Trivial Pursuit. But only for people who know something about some trivia.

Searching, along with satisfaction with search results, both changed once we entered the Google Era.

Google, though, like virtually all things digital, is rarely better than the seeker. Stated differently, Google’s output is a function of both the searcher’s input and patience. It’s the old chestnut about Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Sometimes, we know, one has to go three or four or 30 pages into the product of a Google search before “getting” to what we’re “really” interested in learning.

Replacing attendance at the library, the tiresome sifting through endless drawers of cards cataloguing information and standing in dimly lit, crowded stacks filled with books, periodicals and who-knows-what-else, Google, as was once Eric Clapton, is God.

Well, almost.

Recently, a student conducting library research on my behalf announced that he was unable to locate ANY information on the subject I requested.

Nothing.

How could that be, I wondered.

He was tasked with locating contemporaneous reviews of a mid-1950s nonfiction book. Hardly an obscure title, the book generated so much commotion when published that it prompted Congressional hearings, a stream of policy initiatives ranging from local to Federal, and self-regulation by an industry.

Unperturbed by such facts, the student didn’t know where else to turn. He had, after all, Googled.

When it comes to the list of things undergraduate students cannot do or find, it is the lengthy list, not the short one.

Pizza? No problem. What used to be called library research? Big problem.

Using his laptop’s Internet connection, I asked him to search for the Original Google in our university library.

Faster than the flick of a gnat’s eyelash, the call numbers came on screen. And off we set to the dimly lit, crowded stacks filled with books, periodicals and who-knows-what-else.

Carefully inspecting spines, I chose the one with the 1955 date. The thick, green, bound volumes practically required two hands to pull off the shelves. And we were both thankful for the presence of a nearby table on which to rest and open the volume.

Helpfully, stuff was arranged alphabetically.

And Voila! More reviews of the book in question than you can shake a lamb’s tail at.

My student research assistant marveled wide-eyed and was struck speechless (two phenomena that rarely occur, especially the latter) as I deciphered, interpreted and explained to him the mysterious code contained on multiple columns.

All of this took up to five minutes. If you can imagine. Unbearable, nearly intolerable. Including walking time.

No one in their right mind wants to abandon Google. But every now and again, the old way is still a good way.

The good old Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature.

It’s kinda like the standard instructions enclosed with virtually anything: when all else fails, RTFM.