Searching For the Answers

An updated website is one of the most useful tools that academic libraries have to communicate with the students, faculty, and staff we serve at our colleges and universities. Our websites offer access to information sources, provide help with research, and list our policies and basic information about the library: where we’re located, when we’re open, how to get in touch with us. It’s 2013 — libraries (and colleges) have had websites for a long time, so surely our website is the first place to look to learn more about the library, right?

Maybe, but maybe not. While I always check the website when I need more information about a library, often arriving there via the college or university website, I’m not sure that all of our patrons do. More often than not I’d guess that they use a search engine to find the library website. Assuming that Google is the search engine of choice for most of our patrons, what do they see when they search for our libraries?

(Feel free to go ahead and try a Google search with your own college or university library. I’ll wait.)

I tend to search with Google, but I must not search that often for businesses or other specific locations on Google’s web search, because it took me a while to notice that Google had added a box on the right side of the search results page populated with details about a business or location. The box includes a photo, a map (which links to Google Maps for directions), and some basic information about the place: a description from Wikipedia (if one exists), the address, phone number, and hours. There’s also a space for people to rate and review the business or location, as well as links to other review websites. It seems that the information in the box is populated automatically by Google from the original websites.

This is great news, right? This Google feature can get the information our patrons need to them without having to click through to the library website. On the other hand, what happens when the information is wrong?

At my library we first learned about the Google info box last winter. A student approached the Reference Desk to verify the library’s opening hours. It seems that she’d found the library hours on Google, and was upset to learn that we’d extended our hours the prior semester. While there’s a happy ending to this story — it’s delightful when a student wants to come to the library earlier than she thinks she can! — this experience was frustrating for both of us. Since we hadn’t realized that Google added the info box to its search results, we didn’t know to check whether the information was correct. The student naturally assumed that we were in control of the information in that box, and was angry when it seemed that we hadn’t kept it up to date.

Just a month ago we encountered another issue with the Google info box for our library. I don’t know that I would expect there to be reviews of a college library on business or location review websites, but our library’s info box does have one review website listed under the Reviews heading. Following the link leads to a review that has nothing to do with the library (or the college), and is instead a post criticizing the city’s police department. While a bit jarring, it only takes a minute of reading the review site to realize that the review isn’t actually about the library, just a false hit on the review website.

While there are definitely advantages to having basic information about our library available quickly for our patrons, some aspects of the Google info box are troubling from a user experience perspective. It’s unclear how often Google updates the information in that box automatically — our experience with the incorrect library hours suggests that it’s not updated frequently. Also, it’s challenging to edit some of the information in this box. There’s a link for business owners to claim and edit their profile which does offer the opportunity to change some details displayed in the box. But we weren’t able to remove the erroneous review website from our listing; our only option was to use the Feedback link to request that the link be removed, and who knows how long that will take?

My biggest takeaway has been the reminder that we should periodically research our libraries as if we were patrons looking for information. Google offers search alerts, which can be helpful to learn when our libraries are being mentioned on other websites, but I don’t know that there’s any way to automatically learn what information has been added or changed in the Google info box. I’d be interested to know if anyone has figured out a quick and easy way to keep track of this sort of thing — please share your experiences in the comments!

About Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian and Department Chair, Library, at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York.

5 thoughts on “Searching For the Answers

  1. I just searched for the Newman Library at Baruch College. The hours that are displayed in the info box appear to be the same ones that I updated in the OCLC Library Spotlight profile page the other day. I wonder if Google is pulling hours from that OCLC service?

  2. Hmm, very interesting, thanks for sharing, Stephen! I’ll ask our Web Services Librarian whether that seems to be the case for us, too, (and will report back).

  3. Interesting. I’m sending this to our webmaster. The hours Google posts for our library are actually hours for a reading room in another building. But the library does run the reading room.

  4. Since I first commented on this, I’ve learned from OCLC that the profiles in Spotlight will be picked up by Yelp but there is no deal with Google. I also found out that at the bottom of that info box about our library is a link that asks, “Are you the business owner?” If you follow that link, you can start the process of claiming ownership of the institution and editing the details.

  5. Thanks for following up on this Stephen, that’s interesting to learn about OCLC. We did go through the process of claiming ownership of our library, but even after that there were only certain details of the library info box that we could edit, and it didn’t seem like reviews were one of them. But I should go back and check again — if anything, the moral of the story for me is that we need to do web searches for our libraries every so often.

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