Don't Let The Web Limit Your Searches

Sep 13, 2016

In 1991 when I was the librarian at Fermilab, I had the memorable experience of seeing an early version of the World Wide Web. I huddled in an office cubicle with a crowd of physicists and computer scientists to see a demo by Tim Berners-Lee, who at the time was a scientist at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland.

By the late 1990s, I -- like many librarians -- spent countless hours curating websites to email patrons based on their specific interests. These were mainly published journal and news articles. It wasn’t long, of course, until people turned to Google and did their own searches. But those searches did not -- and still do not -- provide the vast amount of published full text content contained in proprietary databases that libraries subscribe to.

These days it’s estimated that almost half of the American population consumes news through social media. We know that these services, and the search engines we use, can skew results to mirror what we search, follow, and tweet. Authorship of news bites is often indeterminable and the accuracy, dubious. 

Some 27 years after inventing the Web, Berners-Lee is still working on it. In a New York Times article from June, he cites one of the problems he and other scientist activists are addressing: “the dominance of one search engine, one big social network, one Twitter…”

What I see is that extreme connectivity and dependence on these few sources for information reduce our ability to truly understand today’s serious issues.

I’m Paula Garrett, and that’s my perspective.