Bruce Ringer is a research team leader at Auckland Libraries.
The day Google was founded, September 4, 1998, I knew nothing about it.
I was one of two reference librarians on duty at Manukau Libraries, and my work diary shows that among other duties we responded to 18 inquiries by telephone and 14 in person.
We had no external emails that day but made considerable use of fax.
A lot of the job involved putting people in touch with books — on that day we provided 53 books from our stacks on request and sent or received 17 interloan requests for books and periodical articles from other libraries in New Zealand.
Items came and went by post or courier.
Inquiries ranged from simple to complex. They included requests for addresses, car manuals and education statistics — we provided information on topics from the Great Depression to Chinese settlement in New Zealand and jurisprudence and criminal law.
We’d changed over from microfiche in 1986 and abandoned card catalogues sometime before that.
By 1998 in-house catalogue searches were automated, with access to a range of proprietary databases.
Otherwise, answering inquiries usually involved checking printed sources: encyclopedias, indexes, directories, bibliographies. Many of these were bulky volumes — so librarians needed strong wrists in those days.
Here’s a confession: I’m a technophobe and a slow adopter.
Working mostly with books suited me. A few years post-Google, it gave me great satisfaction to win a ‘reference
race’ answering questions using only print resources against a colleague using only the internet.
That wouldn’t be possible now.
To my recollection, Google became inescapably useful for librarians in about 2005 and types of enquiry have changed dramatically since.
Nobody comes to a library to look at medical encyclopedias or textbooks anymore; they find their own health information (or misinformation) on Google instead.
But there remains a vast universe of information outside Google.
To explore it I still use skills and knowledge picked up 20 or even 30 years ago.
But I use new skills as well — today, like my colleagues; I’m more into info-navigation, interpretation, packaging, preservation and creation than leafing through bibliographies, photocopying articles and providing gobbets of fact.
But pre-Google or postGoogle, I’m still in the business of adding value to peoples’ lives and (hopefully) finding things no one else can find.
Bruce Ringer pre Google.