Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In Love With ChaCha

Are librarians really so insecure that they feel compelled to bash a new technology which might become competition? Apparently, the answer is a resounding YES. I saw an article online (read it here: http://ptech.allthingsd.com/20080424/if-you-have-chacha-and-a-cellphone-you-have-answers/) about a new text service called "ChaCha," and it showed me a bit of that delicious bickering that you only get among those who have little else to do with their time than scream at imagined threats. First of all, for those who don't know, ChaCha is a text message service which acts like a pocket librarian. All you do is send a question to ChaCha (242 242) and the answer will be fired back to you in the span of a few minutes. It is remarkably handy, and I have used it a few times to get quick answers to basic questions like "Where's the nearest Dairy Queen?" or "What's the number for the Cheesecake Factory?" I instantly became a fan of it, and plan on using it many times in the future.

However, not everyone seems to think that ChaCha is so wonderful. Dig these comments on ChaCha from the online article:

"Hello. This is nothing new in the universe. There has always been a way to use your phone to get answers. It’s called your public library. Program their number into your cell phone and you are good to go. And you’ll be getting your answers from professionals rather than some unknown person earning 20 cents per question."

"Are you kidding? Librarians have been offering this service for decades and doing it with accuracy and speed. They have training and experience with a variety of print and electronic resources and many know the hidden Web resources to check for the truly hard-to-find.
If you live in an urban or suburban community and haven’t contacted a public or university library for information retrieval, you’re wasting your time with “volunteers” masquarading as information specialists."

"If you have a phone, you’ve had a way to get answers all along, from qualified researchers, rather than unknown individuals working for $.20 per answer.
Call your local public library. The librarians there are information professionals, and will find you the right answer."

Now, I'm only assuming that these jerk-offs are librarians because of Library Journal's Norman Oder (GREAT last name!) calling them such. It does make sense though, since I can't imagine anyone but librarians getting so pissy about a new reference service. As someone who actually works in a library and has used Chacha, I'm going to list some differences between the two that might be helpful. Or not.

ChaCha is available 24/7, while libraries have shit hours and are rarely opened on Sundays. If you're at some asshole's condo at 1 am and need to find out who wrote the script for the film "Houseguest" so that you can win a bet, you can text ChaCha. By this time, most libraries are closed and most librarians are weeping about how they never got to do what they really wanted to in life because they chose to "play it safe" with Library Science.

You will NEVER get a ChaCha text saying "Sorry, but this is the Children's desk. Let me send you to the Adult info desk for that answer."

ChaCha will answer (or attempt to answer) asinine questions that you ask it just to amuse yourself. While at work Scott and I came up with some truly idiotic questions (which we assumed to be unanswerable) to ask ChaCha, and got back some surprisingly great answers. I'd love to share these answers with you, but apparently I would need written permission. Ask these same questions to a librarian, and they will either ignore you, say that they're too busy to answer such questions, or hang up on you.

I've worked in libraries for close to 8 years now, and I can say with confidence that librarians are certainly NOT the Gods of Information that people assume them to be. Furthermore, I've seen in larger librarians that it's usually Library Assistants and not actual Librarians who are on the reference desk most of the time, and Library Assistants do not have degrees in Library Science. Also, from some that I've worked with in the past (thank you LA County), a couple are also so incredibly dumb that you yourself can get the answers faster and more accurately with Google and a basic knowledge of typing.

ChaCha won't be insulted if you ask for a store's hours.

ChaCha won't put you on hold to help other patrons, then forget about you.

ChaCha won't sound like a goddamn circus when the schools get out.

Finally, ChaCha won't walk you to a computer, sit you down, and then force you to find all the answers out for yourself by using the internet.

That said, ChaCha certainly doesn't have the nice community of perverts, angry old people, and vagrants that your local library has, nor does ChaCha carry books. ChaCha has no internet, so you still need a library for that too. You can't form crushes on the ChaCha person who's answering your questions, and there will never be a movie or book based on ChaCha people. Libraries are fine institutions, deserving of respect, whereas ChaCha is just something you use for answers to quick questions. In short, Librarians and ChaCha should embrace one another, and consummate a glorious relationship based on the information needs of others.

1 comment:

Scott Douglas said...

Well said. So how many ChaCha's does it take to change a lightbulb? Go ahead, text it right now!