Monday, July 21, 2014
Have you heard of this thing called Google?
Now I know. They write to historical societies asking us to do research for them that they could just as easily do themselves with a couple of mouse clicks. Apparently there are still members of the general population that have never heard of this thing called Google. I'm one of the people who follows up on requests the county historical society gets from folks doing genealogy or other research relating to Baraga County. I've dealt with two in the past couple of weeks that had me wishing for the proverbial 2 x 4 with which to get the mule's attention.
One actually isn't too bad. The request came in the form of a hand-written letter. It's quite possible the person asking for research assistance is one of those rare individuals (and they do still exist, although they're becoming as rare as unicorns) who either doesn't own a computer or is sufficiently computer illiterate that even running a simple, preliminary search is something they don't know how to do. In any event, it turned out that although Google would have answered a couple of quick questions, it would not have yielded all the information the person wanted. For them, Google would have been a start, but they probably would have written to us anyway to track down things like photocopies of death certificates and marriage licenses.
The other request, however, really did remind me of the snot-nosed freshmen who used to annoy me back in my glory days as an academic. The person did a lengthy email laying out in excruciating detail what they hoped to find. After multiple paragraphs of verbiage, the bottom line was, in essence, a simple yes or no question: did a certain person hold a specific title at a certain point in time. WTF? Two seconds on the Internet and I had the answer. If you can find an answer using Google, why waste anyone else's time? And why on earth do multiple paragraphs of build-up to get to the question?
So how did I respond to the lengthy email with its stupid question? Did I answer it? Well, no. I was in a snarky mood. I reminded the person that the museum's website states clearly that we charge for research assistance. And, not only do we charge, we want money in advance before we do anything. Will the person send us $25 to get an answer that could be obtained for free with a 3 word search phrase and a mouse click or two? I don't know, but I'm kind of hoping they do. You can't cure stupid, but you can make it pay.