Daniel Lemire's blog

, 2 min read

Why don´t people use university libraries?

I was recently asked by someone who manages a librarian newsletter, why I thought that library tools did not make it in the Top 100 Tools for Learning by Jane Hart. I immediately replied that Google Scholar made it to the list.

Then I had to think back. What about the last time I used a library tool (other than Google Scholar)? I can remember bad feelings like “why is the user interface so complicated?”. Then “why can’t I find what I am looking for?”. And “why do I have to choose which database I want to search in, can’t it just search them all?”. And “why do I have to go to another, different tool, to know who cited this paper and when?”.

Beyond these frustrations, I came up with some more specific reasons why library tools are not used:

  • They are not user-friendly. They were clearly designed with the “we shall train the users” motto in mind. Sorry. I do not want any training. I want you and your tools to get out of my way and let me find what I am looking for.
  • You may not consider this workshop paper that appeared on the Web two months ago a “worthwhile” reference, but I do.
  • It is ok for you to have to mail order a journal article and wait a week for it. Me? I want it now, on my screen, or else…
  • So, your search engine covers more prestigious journals than Google Scholar? It can count citations appearing in prestigious journals with absolute accuracy? Because, of course, you can only trust the “reliable sources”. Well, you are a librarian and you care about these things, but I am a researcher and I do not care as much as you do. I have a social network, I know who are the researchers you can absolutely trust, those who I should investigate further. In minutes or even seconds, I can tell about the quality of a paper. It is not a problem for me to trim out junk: the Web has trained me well to do it. Students should learn to do the same.

Update: This blog post was cited in the Fall 2007 newsletter of the Online Computer Library Center, Inc.