Where’s The Library In This Partnership

I just learned from Blackboard’s November 2006 newsletter that a new partnership was established with Google. My university (and probably your’s too) is a Blackboard customer, and I do like to see them establishing new ventures that expand the utility of their courseware system and its value to our faculty and students. While the two companies are working together to incorporate a number of Google tools into Blackboard the one that is of most concern to me involves Google Scholar. According to the press release about the collaboration:

An exciting outcome of the partnership is the integration of the Blackboard Learning System (TM) and Google Scholar. The integration of these two products…enables quick and easy access to millions of scholarly references directly from courses within the Blackboard environment.

The press release then goes on to exclaim the many virtues of Google Scholar. Don’t get me wrong. Despite my reputation as an occasional Google naysayer I think there are some real benefits to this aspect of the partnership. Scholar, when combined with the library’s link resolver technology, has the power to serve as a discovery tool that can actually lead students into the library’s treasure-trove of resources. Integrating it into the Blackboard course (even though it requires a building block that makes taking advantage of this possible only for those who have Blackboard’s enterprise version) is a good example of “be where the users are” thinking because it has the potential to put students one link closer to the library’s e-content right in a dynamic learning space.

The operative word there is “potential”. What really concerns me is that all too often academic libraries are completely out of the courseware loop on their campuses. Yes, there are the shining examples of academic libraries that run and support courseware on their campuses, but I still hear all too many tales of librarians who are shut out by their campus courseware administrators. I can too easily envision campus courseware administrators, be they in academic computing or IT, deploying the building block that integrates Google Scholar into Blackboard without informing the librarians or seeking their collaboration in the process. Many libraries have yet to implement link resolver technology, and without it Google Scholar will further marginalize the library’s e-content. It also potentially puts students in a position to pay for full-text access to resources their library may already provide.

I hope this mention of the Blackboard-Google partnership will encourage academic librarians to take a leadership position on their campus in any consideration of integrating Google Scholar into the courseware system. There should be some discussion about the implications of Google Scholar’s integration into Blackboard, and what that means for the library and the user community. Handled properly, it has the potential to be a beneficial advancement. If not, it just further widens the divide between the library and their constituency. How’s this going to play out on your campus?

And while I’m asking questions, why aren’t we seeing any partnerships to better integrate the library’s aggregator database and catalog content into the courseware system? What are the library database aggregator’s waiting for? To see how many other ways Google can think of to eat their lunch? A truly cynical librarian might even question if the aggregators and e-journal publishers are fine with allowing Google to serve up their content in a non-library container because it opens up the possibility for IHEs and their students to pay twice for the same content. But you know I’m not a cynical librarian, right.

4 thoughts on “Where’s The Library In This Partnership”

  1. Good point, Lisa. There’s a lot more scope for libraries to get involved in open source classroom management programs on their campuses since the whole idea is to share, not to have a proprietary box with big-time collaborators signing on.

    But I’m struck by Steven’s final paragraph – when I first read about Google Scholar, my first thought was “this could clobber the aggregators.” I was thinking particularly of some that don’t include full-text, but rack up big bucks by providing indexing to a discipline’s work, some of them cretated by scholarly societies who count on the library’s subscriptions and have had something of a monopoly. That hasn’t happened yet, but I haven’t had any sense that the industry is thinking ahead and making their products so good (or so affordable – or both) that they’ll still have a solid market niche if/when publishers begin listing their content with Google or some other free aggregator.

    I have absolutely no problem with publishers finding a non-subscription means of making their content visible, so long as we can link it to our library content subscriptions. After all, much of the content still has to be bought by someone, and I’m sure scholars and students will be happy for us to do that, particularly if we make it at least as convenient as choosing one of over a hundred mysteriously-named databases and learning its peculiar interface.

  2. At the Charleston Conference last week, the rep from Blackboard told the audience that their reason for partnering with Google rather than ILS or database vendors is that the latter refused to cooperate. Google wanted to play, so they are.

    There was lots of discussion at the conference about the need for interoperability among various systems, including courseware, portals, ILS, and databases; and that this should be done at the vendor-to-vendor level, rather than libraries having to do the job of their programmers.

  3. At our institution our library is using Blackboard to deliver the library content and is now talking to various faculty members to embedd links (search boxes) to specific library database content. If we don’t go to them they will continue to bypass the library resources and use other internet tools like google.

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