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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Searching the library catalogue via google

This may be old news, but it's new to me. I was doing a google search today on some work-related subject, when one of the search results caught my inner genealogist's eye. Or not so much the result itself, but the site it came from.   -   The catalogue of the National Library of Australia (NLA).

I tried searching google for the names of a few reasonably obscure Australian titles, and sure enough an NLA result came up on the first page. Interesting! When I clicked into a result it looked like the standard NLA result page, except that it also contained a big blue box explaining what the catalogue was, services offered by the library, and how to get back to google.

I've mentioned before that the NLA newspaper site is searchable via google, but I didn't realise that the entire catalogue was.

Time to experiment
I tried searching on the words "Avoca history" in the NLA catalogue and came up with 38 results. The google search "Avoca history" came up with 478 results. Looking down the list of results, I soon saw a likely reason for the difference in numbers. The google search was reading the entire catalogue page, including headings such as "search history", not just the record results.

I tried the NLA catalogue again without the word "history". This time I had 236 results. Not enough to account for the difference. The gap widened when I tried google on just "Avoca". 2,810 results. Hmmm.

Another scan of the google results, and I could see that they not only included catalogue record pages, but also catalogue search pages, record comment pages, and possibly others attached to the record itself. Difference explained, I think.

I find the NLA's own search results more useful than the google results. They offer all sorts of relevant filtering and sorting options and don't have google's repetition of the real content, the item record. The one time I think I would want to use the google results is to get at the cached pages if the NLA site was unavailable for some reason!

But still, I thought it an interesting discovery. It's nice to think that a relevant NLA catalogue entry could appear in the results for someone who would never have thought to look there otherwise, when doing a google search.

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