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Friday 23 May 2008

Linking away from the library

David Lee King's notes from a session by David Weinberger, specifically "a blogger that links to other places tells people to 'go away.' The hope is that readers will find that valuable enough to come back to you." reminded me of something I'd been thinking about yesterday.

There's a bit of resistance to library pages linking outwards to other sites and services. The reasoning goes that "If students wanted to search on Google Scholar they'd go there, not our databases page" and "If students wanted to search on Amazon they'd go there, not our catalogue."

Which is true and in the past I've had no answer for it. But these days there are so many different places to go to and search, who wants to check each one individually? That's why we have rss readers, and federated searching, and Meebo, and social aggregators.

These days, where (to pick numbers at random for illustration purposes) you might have a dozen sites each with an average 40% chance of finding what you're looking for, you don't go to the site which has a whopping 50% chance. You go to the site which makes it easy to go to the other sites and ramp up your chances to 90%.

So if Google Scholar searches 80% of the library databases, and the library databases search 80% of what Scholar gets, but Scholar has the "Full Text @ My Library" link and the library has no link to Scholar -- then where are students going to go?

And if Amazon searches a bazillion books that will require extortionate shipping costs and weeks to reach New Zealand at all, and the library catalogue has a million books that are actually here for free, but you can get your LibX plugin to link from Amazon to the library catalogue, whereas the library catalogue stops with "Sorry, could not find anything matching [your title], the end, have a nice day" -- then where are students going to go?

Okay, it's not quite that simple, if only because most students haven't actually heard of Google Scholar or LibX so they're actually going to be searching sites that don't link back to the library at all. But the principle of the thing remains. Just because a resource or service is outside of the library doesn't mean we shouldn't link to it. Libraries are meant to be all about the added value, aren't we? Well, linking outward adds value -- the sort of value that makes it worth the while of our customers to spend their valuable time using our service.