Monday, November 19, 2007
Have you ever had the "database" argument with a fellow library co-worker? You know the one where you want to put Science Direct on the database links and they say "but that is a collection of ejournals, not a database!"?

I was heartened to find I'm not the only one beating my head against this brick wall from time to time Library 2.0: An Academic's perspective had a wonderful story about her fight to put Google Scholar on the proxy list at her school. One of the arguments here was that Google Scholar was a "search engine" and not a database.


So what is a database? Google (gasp! she used Google!) has a varied list of definitions for the word database. I like the simplicity of WordNet's definition: An organized body of information. Simple. All encompassing. By this definition my bookshelf is a database. hmmm.

Ok, let's try again. Alt web's definition is : A computerized collection of information. Ok, so my bookshelf is not a database. But my email inbox is?

Ok, one more time.
The Wildlife Society remote sensing working group defines a database as: Relational data structure used to store, query, and retrieve information. Ah, much more technical. A computer scientist would like the definition. Here we have another piece of the equation - store? query? retrieve? Suddenly this organized body of information has meaning.

I guess my working definition of a database would be: a computerized collection of information that is organized in a way that bring meaning to the collection and is able to be manipulated for use.

Working in different libraries I have seen many unsaid definitions of database in action:
  • A database is something subscribed not free
  • A database has vocabulary control
  • A database has bibliographic records
  • etc.

All of these seem to me to be attempts for libraries to control the data and information. To put reins on it and keep it in check. Are we afraid if we "let" them use a "non-librarian approved" database that they won't respect us in the morning?

I guess it comes down to what a library feels its mission is. Is your mission to teach and proscribe that information must come from these sources? Only your sources are accurate and right and we will snub our noses at those unwashed masses of other sources. Or, is your mission to help people find and use information. period. People - in all their messy preferences and quirks. Information - in all its messy and unorganized and uncontrolled beauty. And bring the two together - wherever, whenever.

If our patrons want to use google scholar or science direct or whatever - what do we gain by scolding them? Obsolescence.

I think we fear obsolescence and that in our fear we are realizing just that. If they use google scholar - what will our jobs be? I say, don't worry! They don't use google scholar well, trust me. They need help and guidance and alternatives at their fingertips when they grow tired of trudging through. And a librarian will be there to pick up the pieces.

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posted by Paige Lucas-Stannard at 7:22 AM | 0 comments
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