Back in July, I wrote about a patent application from Google that may have described how Google attempts to find the web pages that should be shown with local search results, Authority Documents for Google’s Local Search.
One of the places that a local search service might look for business information about an enterprise online is through business directories. A number of white papers on local search and geographic location information note that some organizations and places might not list themselves in those types of directories, because there is often a fee associated with many of the better ones.
I would guess that Libraries would be amongst that group with little incentive to hunt down directories, and pay to be included within them, yet also believe that there are many web sites that might list and link to libraries for free.
One of the great things about a local search is that you can not only find a location and other information about an organization through them, but also that they will provide a web address, so that you can visit their web site and learn even more. How well does that work? I decided to look up a number of libraries to see if the web site listed in the information about those libraries was the web site for the actual library.
To find library information, I did a search on organic Google results, to find a link to the local results for libraries in different locations. I then checked the top five from that location to see if the web site associated with the location was for that library.
Search: New York Library
Top five results and the web site that appears associated with them:
2. New York Public Library for the Performing Art – nypl.org (New York Public Library)
3. New York Public Library: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture – nypl.org (New York Public Library)
4. Ottendorfer Library – nypl.org (New York Public Library)
5. New York University: Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences – nyu.edu (New York University)
Not bad results. The top result is really bad with its link to the British Library, but the rest are close to right. The middle three libraries are branches of the New York Public Library, and while they have individual pages on the New York Library web site, at least Local brought us to where we could find them. I’d like to think that local could do better and bring us to the specific pages for each of those libraries, but that might be difficult sometimes. For example, the NYU page for the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences (http://nyu.edu/pages/cimslibrary/) is presently giving me a 404 error message.
Search San Francisco Library
1. San Francisco Public Library – lib.ca.us (San Francisco Public Library)
2. University of California San Francisco UCSF-A Health Sciences CA: Collection Development – universityofcalifornia.edu
3. Public Library of Science – plos.org (Public Library of Science)
4. University of California San Francisco UCSF-A Health Sciences CA: Business Office – universityofcalifornia.edu
5. University of California San FRCSF-A Hlth SCNCS CA: General Information – universityofcalifornia.edu
No big surprises here, and they are mostly right, though Local displays “lib.ca.us” for the top result, which if you cut and past into a browser window returns a dead page. Clicking on the link does bring you to “sfpl.lib.ca.us” though. And the University Library links bring you to the homepage of the University rather than specific pages for each of the places specified in the links.
Search Cincinnati Library
2. Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County: History & Genealogy – loc.gov (The Library of Congress)
3. Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County: Science & Technology – No web address
4. Ivorydale Technical Center Lib – no web address
5. Kapp Memorial Library (no longer available) – no web address
Cincinnati Libraries didn’t fare as well as those in New York and San Francisco. The first three listed probably should have linked to the web site for the Cincinnati Public Library. I’m not sure why the first two show a link to the US Library of Congress. A search in Google’s organic results only show the Ivorydale library in listings from sites like CitySearch. The Kapp Library became part of the Cincinnati Psychoanalytic Institute in 1981, so I don’t question the lack of a web address as much as I do its inclusion in the list of libraries.
Search Newark Delaware
1. University of Delaware – virginia.edu (University of Virginia)
2. Newark Free Library – publiclibraries.com (Publiclibraries.com)
3. International Reading Association – reading.org
4. Stanton Campus Library – no web site
5. New Castle County Government Center: Answer Line Reference Service – new-castle.de.us (New Castle County Government)
This is where things started to get really ugly.
I would have been fine with a link to the University of Delaware homepage for the top result in lieu of a link to the University of Delaware Library homepage. But a link to the University of Virgnia?
The second result, listing the local community library, and pointing to publiclibraries.com makes me wonder if most small local libraries without web sites of their own end up with a link to a page like that. Is it considered an authority site for many small libraries?
The International Reading Association has plenty to do with books, but it isn’t a library. The link is right, but why is it included here?
For the Stanton Campus Library, if I click on the link for “more information,” they correctly show Delaware Technical & Community College at the top of a list of links. Why not show it in the result that appears when I click on the map pointer? Why show no web address at all there?
The fifth result doesn’t sound like a library, by any means. But it does contain some information about county libraries.
I’ll probably look at some more libraries to get a better sense of what is going on with Google Local Search and libraries, but it appears that the smaller the city, the less relevant the results may become. Many libraries don’t have a web site associated with them, and if they have a web page on a site, the link displayed may go to the front page of that site. But some or the results are mystifying, like the link to the University of Virginia for the University of Delaware result.
If you run a Library, I believe that you can submit information about your library to the Google Local Business Center even though it isn’t a “business.” That may help information about your library show up correctly in Google Local listings.