Cooking and librarianship–online searches similar issues

With all the buzz that NYPL’s menu project (@nypl_menus) has been creating recently as they digitize all of the menus that the library holds, this is an interesting look at what Google and the other search engines really do – and why we need librarians, especially ones like Ms. Federman.  The article, titled “Can Recipe Search Engines Make You a Better Cook?” takes a good look at what really turns up when we enter requests for recipes into the various search engines out there.

It also brings to the front ideas that librarians have known for a while: “With 10 million recipe searches a day on Google alone, the results surely influence what American’s eat. But when you idly type in ‘cookies’ – the most common recipe search, according to Google – do these systems evaluate recipes the way a good cook would, by the clarity of their directions, the helpfulness of their warnings, the tastiness of the results?”  This is almost the same dilemma librarians face everyday when a patron says, “well I’ll just look it up on Google or Wikipedia”.

Oddly enough, probably more people will read this article than any article on the utility of libraries and librarians in this day and age.  And these same people, will not recognize what happens everyday in a library.  Is this yet another instance of the “Googlization” of America?  Surely at some point we will realize that not everything is all about Google and Wikipedia – there has to be some method of evaluating the sources.

Interestingly, this article actually talks about the attempts to refine the process actually resulting in getting less specific and helpful recipes – this is why our librarian skills will trump a computer every time!  These search engines are trying to search based on a complex algorithm, but web designers know what these algorithms are and can tweak their metadata so that their results show up first – regardless of whether those recipes are tasty or fit the guidelines of the search.

However, there is hope: the author mentions visiting a search engine called Eat Your Books.  The founder of this search engine isn’t searching the internet for recipes, but rather using the librarianly skill of indexing to search thousands of cookbook recipes to help you find the correct recipe!  How wonderful – how can we spread the word?


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