Amazon vs. WorldCat – an unscientific test
Most people who work in libraries these days know implicitly that users prefer Amazon’s database to the typical library’s online catalog (user testimonial to this effect), even if the data in the Amazon database is, to put it politely, an utter mess. Little did I expect that I would join the ranks of those who prefer Amazon, being an “expert” library catalog user and all, but such is what happens when Amazon delivers and libraries fail.
So, to the test, which wasn’t really a test, but a quick search. I had (finally!) finished reading the book Little, Big by John Crowley and wanted to celebrate this minor milestone (reading contemporary American fiction is something I can rarely accomplish) by tossing up something about it on Facebook to let my family and friends know that I am indeed not illiterate. I remembered the title, but had forgotten Crowley’s name. In a fit of librarianness, I went to worldcat.org to look up his name.
I dutifully typed little big in the large, friendly search box, and got back what I can only describe as a mess, namely 39, 353 results sorted by, ahem, relevance. Now granted, Crowley did himself no favors with his title, but still, one would think an exact title match would merit high relevance. No dice. It didn’t even show up in the top 50 search results, after which I stopped looking as would any rational visitor. Being a kind soul who believes in second chances, I clicked on the advanced search and searched for little big as the title. I figured that if I helped the system out, it would return the favor and put exact title matches at the top. Still no good. 12, 575 results, and the book I sought still wasn’t in the top 50. It did no good whatsoever to change the sort (not that a casual user would ever even do this).
Frustrated, I thought, hey, wonder how Amazon does with a generic title such as this. Bullseye. Didn’t even bother to tell Amazon it was a book, and it still pulled the exact title match out of its morass of a database. Not only that, it inferred from my search that I might be a fan of Crowley, and four of the top six results are books of his.
This depressed me. It really did. I mean, OCLC is the freakin’ global flagship of libraries, with the biggest, baddest, and most structured bibliographic database going. And it got smacked down, hard, by someone who sells everything from books to enema bags. OCLC is of course pushing WorldCat Local hard these days. Wonder if we could convince Amazon to offer Amazon Local, where users had the option to buy the book or get it at a library.
The book is great, by the way. Highly recommended.