Monday, November 12, 2007

Never did talk to anyone about Google Books, but I did get a tour of the campus and ate some of the free food. A big thank-you to my sister, who works there and set up the tour for two out-of-town librarians. We were there when a bigwig guest came in and said, "I've heard about all the good work you do." to her. I was impressed.

I described some specifics of what we saw in my other blog. I've had some time to reflect on it some and will include the professional reflections here.

Everything that I saw seemed designed to address the individual needs of engineers and the company's need for collaborative work. People there use the adjective "Googly" to describe the creative, collaborative feel of the place. All the famous amenities and the flexibility of the work schedules allow people to be comfortable in their work, but they also keep people on campus, never too far from their work. When we were there, a trailer had been parked within the grounds offering "worksite haircuts". Eating, grooming, fitness, laundry services, self-improvement, even napping are all possible on site.

The work space - at least as I glimpsed it - seemed geared for collaboration. A recent New York Times article described the way ideas in this organization percolate upwards from formulation by individuals to elboration in "grouplets" to implementation. I could picture this taking place in an environment with few doors and lots of whiteboards and reminders above the urinals about transposing code from 32- to 64-bit environments.

"Does Google have a librarian?" I asked, and the answer was - not that either of the two employees I was with knew of. If there really is no such position, I told mayself, that's a hole in the organization. The more I tried to define the role of a librarian in such an environment, the more I puzzled at it, though.

I began with the visual image of all those thick code manuals. Surely, they aren't all online, are they? They should be maintained as a collection! But on the other hand, why would Google care about saving money that way? If an engineer needed a code manual he could just order it, right? Maybe if he or she had to go the library, check it out, and feel responsible for depriving others of it while he or she has it, that engineer would hesitate before using the reource and exploring the paths where it lead. Circulation controls are necessary in environments where physical items are scarce and relatively expensive.

OK, OK, maybe Google doesn't need a librarian for outside technical resources. Wouldn't they need a librarian to do knowledge management in-house? What happens to all the notes on projects in alpha or beta stages? Who keeps them, who has access to them? What keeps engineers on a new project from getting stumped on a problem engineers on a different problem have already solved? The record of the company's own efforts is a resource in itself. For all I know, however, Google has solved that problem by dumping all those records into one big data warehouse and making them searchable. It would be like a Google Desktop for internal use.

So I'm left with the idea that the support services - legal, financial, PR, etc might need librarians to research questions or check facts. Periodical and reference work collections would all be online. I don't know. I wonder how I would research this question.


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