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Jun 10 2019 - 02:02pm
The Fate of The Search Bar

I came across a fascinating article in The Baffler that outlines how Spotify's streaming service builds user profiles and a classification system based on user mood to curate mood-specific playlists and provide mood-related data to third-party advertisers. Many people already know this, but it spurred some thoughts in relation to libraries, search, and how patrons find materials.

I started thinking about my own experiences using Spotify, Netflix, and other streaming platforms that offer their content alongside recommendations to help sift through the vast quantity of material now available with a relatively low-cost monthly subscription fee. I remembered that before Spotify and Netflix, I would buy an album or a film if I really loved it, or if there was a very good chance that I would love it and want to rewatch it. For movies, I would often rent it at the video store first. I recall sifting through CDs at the library to see if I could listen before deciding to purchase and add it to my personal library; I loved music stores with listening booths.

I like to think that I was more selective about the media I consumed then because it generally cost more and took up physical space; now, I pay a relatively small fee for a large digital "library" of media, much of which is recommended to me before I've ever heard of it. Years ago, I would research before I bought: read reviews, talk to friends and receive their impressions of the work. Educating myself about something allowed me to make what I believed to be more informed decisions about what I consumed, and I believe this had huge implications on my identity formation as a young person.

In a recent webinar hosted by Ex Libris, the host reflected the company's goal to provide context for patrons "beyond the single search bar". I started wondering about the future of the search bar, and how it may be ill-fated. How does the difference between the act of searching for an item compare to being served up curated options? How does this change the way young people grow into themselves as people, learners, citizens, and consumers?

Will the algorithm, supported by learned behaviors to adapt to the instant gratification of an algorithmic recommendation, completely replace the search bar? What does this mean for librarians, and library users? How can we provide instructional opportunities for patrons to make well-informed decisions about the recommendations they receive, their media consumption and research queries?

Posted in: Library|By: Kalliopi Mathios|116 Reads