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The Library Catalog vs. Google

September 2, 2010

This is the first in a series of what I hope will be brief, useful tips on the library, library resources, and finding information online.

Up today: The library catalog vs. Google!

Now, you don’t search these for the same reasons, generally. In the library catalog, you’re looking for a book or a movie; in Google, at least if you’re me, half the time you’re trying to remember how to spell something and the rest of the time you’re looking for websites or videos or whatever happened to that guy you went to high school with. But Google is so prevalent that it’s kind of influenced the way we think about all searching, and Not All Searches Are Equal. One might even say that Some Searches Are More Equal Than Others.


  • copies the internet (or a big chunk of it) onto its own servers
  • can consequently search it REALLY QUICKLY
  • spits out results to you that are ranked by Google’s super-secret PageRank algorithm
  • the more popular your site is deemed (i.e., the more people who link to it), the higher your PageRank
  • trivia: the Page in PageRank is named for Larry Page, one of Google’s founders, not for the web pages it indexes

The Library Catalog:

  • consists of a big database that is maintained by SirsiDynix, the company that runs our statewide catalog
  • sends out queries to this database *every time* you search, so searches are kind of slow
  • searches different parts of the record depending on what kind of search you do–a keyword search will look for those words anywhere; a title search will look just in the title field
  • gives you results in reverse chronological order of when the book or movie or CD or whatever was entered into the catalog
  • trivia: you can see a former VP of SirsiDynix doing karaoke online!

Why Can’t the Library Catalog Be More Awesomely Fast and Relevant Like Google?

  • We are not as rich as Google, so our tech is older.
  • There is a statewide committee (I’m on it) that’s looking at ways to make our catalog more awesome and fast like Google.
  • There are some neat tricks you can do with library catalogs that you can’t do with Google. Also, we don’t keep track of what you search for. So there are *some* advantages.

In our next installment, I’ll tell you a little more about some of those tricks and tips. Stay tuned!

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