Herald on Sunday - - REVIEW -

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.

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