12/12/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Librarians To Attempt To Outsmart Google

The Reference Extract project hopes to turn all of this credibility research into something practical. The team consists of professors like Lankes and the OCLC, an academic technology organization that counts more than 60,000 (!) libraries among its members. The initial work is funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Their first goal is certainly ambitious: use the web sites that librarians suggest most often as the basis of a more credible search engine that can return reliable results.

Reference Extract already believes that it can best Google, even before work has begun in earnest. That's because it has already used librarian-recommended sites to populate a custom Google search engine. Simply doing this produced search results that testers ranked as "more credible" than searches run on the main Google index, even when the testers had no idea that one of the searches was based only on librarian-approved sites.

Lankes wants to expand on the experiment, building a new search engine architecture and expanding the data pool. To get that data, OCLC is providing access to its QuestionPoint application, which logs librarian answers to patron questions from around the world. Mining the QuestionPoint database for web links provides a collection of librarian-approved links, and the links are generated simply in the course of doing business. Reference Extract will then weight the results based on criteria like how often a site appears and whether sites are recommended continuously or only at certain times.

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