December 15th, 2011 by John Pell
It is probably the most condescending replies that you can receive to a question you post online: “Here, let me Google that for you…” and when you click the link, injury is added to insult as you are forced to watch an animation of your question being typed into a Google search before you can view the results- which may not even fully answer your question.
Rudeness aside, this sort of response is generally unhelpful because it is based on a couple of faulty assumptions: One, that the literal form of a person’s question accurately reflects that person’s need for information and two, that a person’s need for information may be fully met by the top hits from a Google search.
As it turns out, people are not always that good at asking for exactly the information that they need and Google is often not successful in retrieving the most relevant information for every person.
Arriving at an understanding of the real information need behind the form of a question is a process. Punching the first terms that come up into a Google search box opts out of that process by dismissing the context of the person behind the question- this results in a failure to achieve relevance when the person behind the question is essential for understanding what the question really means.
Librarians understand that information is made relevant through the context of specific human needs and that it can take some interactive exchange to arrive at a full understanding of what those needs are. This is why librarians often respond to questions with questions of their own; they are trying to get a better understanding of what you really need.
Next time you are looking for information particularly suited to your needs, ask a person who can help you to clarify your thinking about what it is you really need to know and educate you about how the information that you need to know is produced, how it is organized, and how it is accessed; ask a librarian.