Monday, July 21, 2014

Have you heard of this thing called Google?

Back when I was teaching, one of the predictable irritations each semester was the student who wanted the instructor to do all the work. You know, the instructor presents an essay assignment -- "Write a 1,000 word paper on a topic relating to X" -- and the student doesn't just want the instructor to hand over a precise, narrowly defined topic on a silver platter (complete with thesis statement and a detailed outline) he or she also expects the instructor to hold their hand every step of the way and basically write the paper for them. I always kind of wondered what happened to those people once they got out in the real world.

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.


  1. Did you tell the person it could be obtained for free with a 3 word search phrase and a mouse click or two?

    Shouldn't the minimum rate these days be fifty dollars?

  2. I did not suggest the magic of Google to the person -- I just did our standard response to any research request, which is that we charge. And, yes, I know our rates are much too low but I haven't been able to persuade the board to raise them.

    In my rich fantasy life, I pretend that once we've got our finding aid done and converted to a PDF available through the website some of the dumber requests will stop. I know they won't, but I can dream.

  3. Is $25 too low? I wish there was some way to find out. Maybe you could research this for me?

  4. Research can be fun and rewarding. Some people may honestly not have any idea where to start but the majority are lazy...they want the answers to brag about but feel their time is to valuable to do the grunt work.

    We researched an old house we once lived in: we went backwards through the deeds to the beginning and then through the census; finally interviewing a ninety year old that use to live in the house. It gave us a real appreciation for the place dated circa 1832 - and pride in our research.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  5. their time is too valuable

    but ours is not. . . the ones that annoy me the most are the folks who want us to do the work but aren't willing to pay the research fee or even kick in a small donation. The museum is an independent nonprofit -- if we don't get admission fees, donations, and the occasional research fee, we'd have to close the doors.

    One of these days I'll have to do a rant about the folks who walk into the museum and are too cheap to pay the $2 admission.


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.