Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Are libraries losing mindshare on the internet? Maybe.



One of the very first library conferences I attended, a very distinguished speaker (not a librarian), stated that he detected a sense of doom and gloom among librarians (or something to that effect, sorry it was 2 years ago). Every librarian knows why, among various reasons, the internet and search engines are threatening to displace the role of libraries and librarians in the minds of the public, the rise of ebook readers threaten to cause the biggest disruption in the way libraries work since the invention of the printing press etc.  One of the major mistakes libraries made this decade is supposedly being slow to recognize the power of simplicity in internet search engines, and by the time libraries came up with their own shiny next-generation OPACs on the web, no-one was using the library websites, since Google was all they needed anyway.




But is this really so?




Using the very cool google insights, I ran a couple of searches to see if people were googling for libraries. Logically speaking if Google was all they needed, they wouldn't need to google to find the library website right?













This first search  , graphs the percentage of searches for libraries on google (keywords like itune, javascript etc were removed as they obviously have nothing to do with what we are looking for). As explained here , this graph doesn't show absolute volume of searches, but percentage of total searches where users googled for libraries. In addition this is normalized, so the period with the highest percentage of searches is set to 100 (in this case this is the beginning of 2004).

We can see a steady downward fall in percentages of google searches for "libraries". If I'm reading this correctly since 2004, percentages of google searches for libraries as of year end 2009 has fallen to 30% of 2004 levels! It's projected to fall to 20% by year end 2010.

Perhaps one reason is that people aren't searching for books online?







As the graph above shows, not really.

Our good friend/competitor Amazon, seems to be steadily gaining. The peaks are due to Christmas in case you are wondering. "Online book" appears to have fallen a bit (Trough of disillusion?) since 2004 but seem to have recovered to 2004 levels, thanks to the likes of Google books and the emergence of various ebook readers.





Let's look at institution types.















"University" as a search term has declined to about 50% of 2004 levels ,bad but nowhere as bad as "libraries".





"

Museum our cousins shows a similar pattern falling to 50% of 2004.


Of course, this is an overall analysis, on a per institution basis, things might be a lot better. For instance, my own library seems to have experienced a slow upward trend in particular a jump in Aug 2009 (start of term) , same for Singapore's national libraries. But you can probably figure out such data more reliably, simply by looking at your weblogs!

Okay, I know this is very crude "analysis",  and  there are a lot of reasons that explain this that have nothing to do with libraries losing mindshare on the internet, perhaps people already bookmark their library webpages so they don't need to google for it is one that comes to mind. Any ideas?

In fact, just before I pressed the "public post" button, I suddenly saw the error.  My first graph was a search for "libraries" not "library" . In normal google searches it doesn't matter, but for google insights it makes a big difference. For the latter it shows a decline to levels of 50% inline with searches for "University" and "Museum"

So in fact "library" as a search term is on par with University and Museums in terms of decline in levels since 2004. The question I can't figure out is , is this decline a cause for concern? Or is it normal, that as the absolute volume of searches increases, the percentage of searches belonging to any keyword search generally falls? 


What do you guys think? Is such analysis ever valuable? Or are you using far more advanced tools (e.g. sentiment analysis)?



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