Google Can Bring You Back 100,000 Answers. A Librarian Can Bring You Back the Right One

Neil Gaiman? Apocryphal?

questions10

Dear Quote Investigator: In today’s world of search engines and myriad webpages some have questioned the future of libraries and librarians. The award-winning fantasy author Neil Gaiman coined an insightful saying on this topic. In essence, a librarian can help guide you to find the right answer from the hundreds of thousands proffered by search engines. Are you familiar with this quotation?

Quote Investigator: In 2010 Neil Gaiman was appointed Honorary Chair of National Library Week in the U.S. On April 16 of that year Gaiman spoke about the changing role of the library in the 21st century during an interview conducted in Indianapolis, Indiana, and a segment of his commentary was uploaded to YouTube. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

We used to live in a world in which there wasn’t enough information. Information was currency. Now we’re in a world in which there’s too much information. There’s information absolutely everywhere. So instead of sending a librarian out into the desert to come back with the one rock that you need from the desert, it’s now a matter of sending a librarian into a jungle to come back with the one tree, the one leaf, in the jungle that you probably wouldn’t be able to get.

Google can bring you back, you know, a hundred thousand answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Gaiman’s remark was noticed; for example, within a week an Associate Dean at Erskine College shared the statement via a tweet: 2

Neil Gaiman: “Google can bring you back, you know, 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” http://bit.ly/alVeMk

On January 17, 2011 an article in “The Guardian” noted that the hashtag #savelibraries was popular on twitter during the previous day. Interestingly, a librarian sent out a streamlined version of Gaiman’s comment labelled with the hashtag. Gaiman noticed this and joined the large group of people who retweeted the message: 3

A simple tweet from a Shropshire ICT lecturer musing on libraries while doing her laundry of a Sunday morning resulted in the hashtag #savelibraries trending worldwide yesterday.

“Libraries are important because … [fill in your answer & RT] #savelibraries”, Mar Dixon tweeted. More than 5,000 people responded spontaneously to her invitation, which was retweeted by, among others, Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman.

Top tweets under the hashtag include @genrelibrarian’s, retweeted by Neil Gaiman and more than 100 others: “Google can bring back a hundred thousand answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

One of the known mechanisms for the creation of misquotations occurs via twitter. A celebrity retweets an existing quotation, and it is immediately and incorrectly attributed to him or her. However, in this case, Gaiman constructed the saying before it appeared on twitter.

In conclusion, Neil Gaiman did deliver the line about finding information during an interview in April 2010. QI believes that he coined it. The filler phrase “you know” that appeared in the original statement is usually deleted.

Image Notes: Portrait of Neil Gaiman. Author: Kyle Cassidy. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Picture showing question marks from PeteLinforth at Pixabay. Images have been cropped and resized.

(QI noticed instances of this quotation in some email signatures and that led him to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. YouTube video, Title: Neil Gaiman on Libraries, Uploaded on April 19, 2010, Uploaded by: indyPL (Indianapolis Public Library), (Excerpt starts at 1 minute 20 seconds of 1 minutes 56 seconds), Video description: “Neil Gaiman, author and Honorary Chair of National Library Week, speaks about the value of libraries, librarians and librarianship before his lecture at the annual McFadden Memorial Lecture Series hosted by Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library on April 16, 2010.”) (Accessed on youtube.com on April 23, 2016)(The text does not exactly correspond to the words spoken by Gaiman. Redundancies and verbal stumbles have been excised) link
  2. Tweet, From: John Kennerly @jkennerly, Time: 11:04 AM, Date: April 21, 2010, Text: Google can bring you back, you know…, (Accessed on twitter.com on April 22, 2016) link
  3. 2011 January 17, The Guardian, Article: Twitter support for libraries snowballs worldwide, Article subhead: Savelibraries hashtag picks up support from thousands around the world, Byline: Benedicte Page, Newspaper location: United Kingdom. (The Guardian Archive; theguardian.com) link