Should libraries run search engines? It seems that the original point of a library was to organize human knowledge and culture for the public benefit. The benefit has been great, but libraries aren't the main tool for finding information now. Search engines are. The notion that a library needs to be for books only is an arbitrary limitation. This oversight allowed corporations to move into that traditionally non-profit role, and I'm not convinced they've done a particularly good job.

@distractedmosfet I encourage you to explore the myriad services offered by public libraries that have nothing to do with books.

@mttaggart That line was a rhetorical statement to encourage whoever may be reading not to mistake libraries as being about books, not an expression of my personal awareness of their services, other than that I have not seen one maintain a general internet search engine.

@distractedmosfet Ah! Sorry I misinterpreted.

Insofar as libraries provide access to search engines—and the internet—free of cost, I would contend they serve their purpose of providing access to information.

If "libraries" were to maintain a search engine, where would that labor be centered? Would every municipality have one? Every country? And that raises the question of whether it is wise for the state to enter the business of information access in a direct way.

@mttaggart The "every municipality" type questions are the interesting ones to me. I feel like if you're pro this idea that you still want to find a practical balance for it. Roughly national-level is probably a sensible point, but hypothetically via key resource sharing such as common software (webserver, crawlers, etc) I could see it being not unreasonable to run some at even smaller levels, presumably to have a diversity in cataloguing/ranking philosophies.

@distractedmosfet I feel like data classification needs to enter the chat at some point. Universities and nations, do operate these kinds of search functions for _certain_ kinds of data. But not the general internet, and that's where I feel some tension here between the idea of an independent search engine and the purpose of libraries (and states).

In fact, given the location of this conversation, I wonder if a federated, independently operated network of search nodes fits the bill.


@mttaggart @distractedmosfet

Libraries employ professionals (my sibling is one) whose job is to classify information and make it discoverable. The automated tools known as "search engines" do a mediocre job of that at best. Google used to be better than it is now, but that's not entirely down to advertising ― it's also the problem of responding to "SEO".

In the highly-dynamic environment of the Internet, what might that look like?

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@publius Yeah this is another interesting space to my mind. Like, to me it would be reasonable for libraries to take the stance that they don't care to index the entire internet but rather maintain a curated selection they index. The internet is a pretty big place and so realistically they'd only cover an incredibly tiny fraction of it but I feel like it'd be possible, especially with some pooled efforts, to fill a job sort of adjacent to something like Google. Less flexible, but curated.

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