Human-power or Algorithms?

A recent article suggests that human-powered searches may be on the increase due to social network sites.  The author argues that human beings can provide better search strings (more relevant or meaningful) than searching by keyword algorithms and lead information seekers to the best websites.  That seems logical, especially with the move toward user-generated content and a “push” instead of “pull” attitude toward information.  I repeat what I have said before, “the hierarchy of information has changed.”  But what, I wonder, about authority?  As a librarian, I have always valued the best in literature, the best in reference sources- the most accurate and reliable–not necessarily the most popular.  Will human-powered searches and social networks lead us to the best?  Does the cream rise to the top?  I am hopeful, but not sold on the idea that it will happen.  I guess my doubt springs from the observation that most social sites value entertainment over education.

This week, in my school library, I had a student hold up a World Book encyclopedia.  I told the class to take a look because I will never be ordering an encyclopedia again.  The words came out of my mouth before I realized what I was saying.  I am working inside a beautiful space that is dissolving and changing right before my eyes.  As fascinating as it is to watch, I am left with a question about librarianship in the future.  I wonder if Google would offer me a job.

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