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There’s a meme making the rounds on the web with a message about how Google can give you a 100,000 answers, but only a librarian will get you the right one. Despite its snarky slant, the maxim makes a valid point. One that resonates with many readers, especially people desperate for information, may they be students or researchers. 

The following abridged excerpt from my novel Poisoned Tears got the inspiration from the notion depicted in the meme above.

 

Alan Knox typed ‘dead women in the New Orleans Metropolitan area’ into the search engine and over a hundred thousand hits appeared on the screen. That’s the problem with digital news, he thought. There’s too may websites discussing the same damn story. Just one murder case could generate thousands of hits. He narrowed his search down to within the year. The hits were slightly fewer. With the resignation of an unwilling toddler put down to nap, he clicked on and read page after page. An hour and several keyword combinations later, frustration settled in.

Geographical availability, that’s the term he thought of as he approached the librarian.

“I need some help.”

“Yes, sir. How can I assist you?”

“Last night they found that woman in the park.”

She nodded. Clearly, she had seen the news.

“I’m trying to find out if there have been other incidents––”

“You think that was intentional and you’re searching for a pattern,” she interrupted.

“In a word, yes.”

“Come with me.”

He followed her to an aisle behind the computers. Large folders safeguarded newspaper editions. She pulled out one of the hefty tomes and placed it on top of the table. Alan glanced at the date range; it was from two weeks before.

The woman kept turning pages, with the care of handling something precious. About halfway through the tome, she found what she was looking for. Alan looked down and read the headline. The more he read the article, the more the hair on the back of his neck rose. Two are a coincidence; three are a pattern. The librarian had just helped him confirm his theory.

 

Libraries, in total understanding of the current times, have added computers for people to conduct their searches. However, the real treasures are kept on the shelves, organized following a nowadays obscure code that's akin to an ancient language.

Back in the day, people turned to libraries to do research on any topic. Today, people, including myself, make our first stop in a search engine, and very often we find what we need. My first online incursions were during the late 90’s, and after enduring the whistle, scratchy sounds of dial-up connections I would look for stuff. I have a soft spot for Yahoo because it was the first engine I used. The trivia-fans were thrilled with the interesting bits found in the Yahoo Daily Pick. Then Google started to take prominence, and people even made a verb out of it. 

Search engines, just like any artificial intelligence, doesn’t think per se, but rather calculates algorithms and thus, presents any and all of the results matching the given criteria, namely keywords, whereas a person will understand the spirit of the question and get you an appropriate response. The secret to searches is selecting the keywords that would yield better results. For detailed researches, however, you need human intuition. That’s a trick that A.I. has not reached yet. The word “yet” being the operative there.

Perhaps the best explanation can be found in the 2004 movie I, Robot. Particularly in the scene where Will Smith’s character tells how a robot chose to rescue him over a kid after an accident, and how humans would have known that even when the kid had a lower chance of survival, she was worth saving more than any adult.

In conclusion: These days it’s all too easy to fall on Google for information. The reality is, however, that Google is simply a computer algorithm designed to help people find information based on keywords and search terms. Google cannot decipher between what’s absolute fact and what’s simply fake news. The internet is so full of noise and misinformation that it’s more likely for us to get the wrong information than it is to find the facts that we are indeed looking for. Sure, Google is a great place to start, and for some of us, it may be the only place we can get to. However, for those who seriously need to know the truth and need to filter out all the noise and often intentional falsehoods, the library is still where it’s at. 

 

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist; however, he ironically prefers to write fiction. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he enjoys to throw in a twist of romance on occasion. He has published three acclaimed novels and is a member of The Crime Writers Association, the Short Fiction Writers Guild, and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor for their official e-zine The Big Thrill.