Friday, March 2, 2012

Will EMERAC (or Google) Doom the Desk Set?

I saw a wonderful movie from 1957 titled Desk Set, starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.

The movie is about a quipping quartet of reference librarians, headed by Hepburn, who are threatened to be replaced by a massive computer called EMERAC.

Katherine Hepburn (at right) faces down EMERAC in Desk Set (1957).
image source: movie still archives

Watching Desk Set, I couldn't help but be reminded of today's worry that Google and other Internet search engines may render the reference librarian obsolete. I found the following clip to be especially cogent:

However, I'm reminded time and again by my professors that neither computers nor the Internet will eliminate the need for librarians in general and reference librarians in particular. Anyone can search Google, I'm told, but not everyone can search Google effectively. And not everyone is adept at determining the accuracy of the results they get from a Google search. That's where librarians come in, I'm told. We're here to help others in searching better and getting the information they want, whether in the stacks or online. So it looks like EMERAC - I mean, Google - will not doom the desk set after all.


  1. Pretty much the point of the movie (and the play before it) was that a tool is best used by those with the proper training. A computer - by itself or in the hands of the unskilled - can be worse than useless.

    "Curfew shall not ring tonight!"

  2. That's brilliant! And I wasn't aware that there was a play before the movie. Excellent!