I have mentioned SEO (Search Engine Optimization) a few times as an increasingly important area of interest for librarians. However, as I have suggested, I come across resistance on the grounds that this is some sort of base or mendacious activity. We are very interested in interoperability, however, and for this reason it may be that Search Engine Interoperability is a more palatable expression. In this case interoperability means managing resources in ways which promote effective crawling, indexing and ranking by search engines. A reasonable goal, given the importance of search engines in the lives of library users.
Anyway, I repeat these points prompted by a post by Tony Hirst on the topic.

What does information literacy mean in the age of web search engines? I’ve been arguing for some time (e.g. in The Library Flip) that one of the core skills going forward for those information professionals who “help people find stuff” is going to be SEO – search engine optimisation. Why? Because increasingly people are attuned to searching for “stuff” using a web search engine (you know who I’m talking about…;-); and if your “stuff” doesn’t appear near the top of the organic results listing (or in the paid for links) for a particular query, it might as well not exist… [Revisiting the Library Flip – Why Librarians Need to Know About SEO « OUseful.Info, the blog…]

It is useful to think about the library website in this context. It is also important for materials which are unique to an institution/library: archival collections, institutional repositories, etc. It is also interesting to think about subject or other liaisons, or specialist library services, or advisory/reference materials. As libraries turn to assisted reputation management for their institutions (thinking about how faculty members, their expertise and their outputs are effectively disclosed on the network for example) it is an important area for investigation. This is a topic which deserves quite a bit more attention ….
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8 thoughts on “SEO”

  1. I agree libraries are like search engines and they help us find what where looking for just like them. Interesting article. Look forward to more information on this.

  2. Thank you for writing about SEO and libraries. Here at SUNY Binghamton, we send a number of our librarians to the exhibits at a SEO conference in NYC each year. In 2006-2007, they conducted an SEO project on selected library sites and an article on their work will be published in Journal of Web Librarianship.

  3. It’s really a shame that OCLC doesn’t do a better job here with Local. Many users don’t go through the effort of clicking through four or five links to find things in libraries…

  4. “Helping people find stuff” and “helping stuff be found by people” aren’t quite the same thing. SEO is the latter. And may in many cases be an important part of librarians’ repertoire. But it’s the focus on the first that keeps librarians from being just a special kind of marketing specialists. We want to help people find the best stuff for their needs and wants, even if that stuff _isn’t_ ours.
    I’ve long been thinking of a _different_ reason that librarians need to understand SEO though–so we understand _why_ the results we get from search engines are what they are. They don’t come from heaven. And part of where they come from is the results of lots of people doing their own SEO, battling for top-of-the-list supremacy. You’ve got to look inside the sausage factory if you style yourself an expert at recommending sausage to people.

  5. The recommendation is a good one, but it’s a bit like recommending good roadway signage to a nation without cars. Libraries aren’t failing at SEO, they’re not in the game at all. The center of a libraries online presence—the catalog—is almost never crawlable. It’s “online,” but it’s not part of the web. I don’t know what you think about this, but this is apparently supported by Roy, who thinks that search engines would be confused by individual pages from many libraries. I think he’s very wrong there.
    This idea, however, hobbles WorldCat Local. Try, for example, “” in Google. Two-hundred forty five pages? Robot exclusion? Pointing to a sitemap that doesn’t include Washington? Isn’t OCLC supposed to be leading on issues like this?

  6. @Tim. There is much more to the library and the library web presence than the catalog? In my examples, as I noted, I focused on stuff that is unique in the context of the library presence, from a service, expertise or collections perspective. If I understand your analogy correctly, libraries certainly have multiple cars on the road here. And these are areas where the library should be thinking about how best to optimise their Google presence. So, for example, this is a recurrent topic of discussion in relation to institutional repositories or digitised materials.
    For non-unique materials, the situation is different, as you suggest (which is why I did not use them as examples). This includes both the journal literature and materials in the catalog, which are indeed largely off-web.
    I reckon there will be multiple routes in to these resources. Lots of things are being tried out at the moment but we don’t have a lot of numbers about results (toolbars, widgets, etc; RSS feeds for queries; …). I think it makes sense for libraries to continue to try various approaches here.
    With the journal literature, we have seen the export of resolver data to Google Scholar and the introduction of Coins.
    With the catalog, there are also likely to be several approaches.
    If libraries see utility in doing it then they should make their catalogs individually crawlable.* This probably also means providing assisted ways of constructing site-specific searches, or developing a convention for how such searches are done (e.g. “ohio state university libraries dr zhivago”)? (Otherwise, they will not rank well enough to be found in general title/author/subject searches?) This may or may not be effective as it depends on learned behaviour or installation of tools? And it fragments overall library linking activity. provides one discovery experience among many in our space. However, we also want to provide a platform which acts as a ‘switch’ between those many other discovery experiences (LibraryThing, for example) and many library locations. Our success in doing that will depend on the utility of our switch. And we are working on that!
    As Adam notes above, the connection between discovery and location can get better.
    I have passed on your note about Worldcat Local to the appropriate folks here.
    * I seem to remember being able to find items in Columbus Metropolitan Library by using a title and the library name in Google. I cannot replicate that now. Maybe Aquabrowser changed something.

  7. @first post,
    Not the libraries are like search engines, the libraries are the websites. The computer which contain all data from the library acts like a search engine in our case.

  8. Usability is a major factor that goes hand-in-hand with SEO. Try to make it as easy as possible for people to get right to the information they are searching for. Libraries are inherently overflowing with information and categorization can easily become a nightmare.

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