Sunday, November 19, 2006

Calling Dave Lull ...

... who is far better qualified than most to comment on this: Google's divine mission powered by profit.


  1. I haven't read this book, but I suspect, true believer in the beneficence of captialism that I am, I would have some differences with its author's opinions about the evils of private book-digitization projects.

    For a different take on this book, by not as big a fan of capitalism as I am, see Scott McLemee's Defiance!

    Mr "Jeanneney woke up to Google's impact on his terrain in late 2004 . . ." when Google began its book-digitization project, called originally Google Print, now called Google Book Search.

    'Wouldn't Google's "list of priorities... likely weigh in favor of Anglo-Saxon culture"?'

    Well, I suppose to some extent the coverage may do so, as long as non-Anglo-Saxon libraries and publishers don't participate. (Perhaps this is starting to change: the library of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid is working with Google to add its collection to the Google Book Search collection.) But an early look at the collections that were being digitized may indicate that this favoring of Anglo-Saxon culture may not be as great as Mr Jeanneney suspects when it concludes that "[m]ore than 430 languages were identified in the Google 5 combined collection [i.e. the first five participating libraries' collections]. English-language materials represent slightly less than half of the books in this collection; German-, French-, and Spanish-language materials account for about a quarter of the remaining books, with the rest scattered over a wide variety of languages."

    'Wouldn't its searches, dictated by logarithms based on search frequency and density of links, push non-American content - in law, science, books - way "down the list," thereby also discriminating against older materials?'

    Who knows? A priori reasoning wouldn't necessarily support this conclusion with respect to Google Book Search. Consider, for example, that the libraries participating are large research libraries (including two European libraries, i.e. the aforementioned library of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and also Oxford University Library), which, if the spread of languages covered indicates something, have large numbers of non-American books. And, of course, so much depends on which search terms are used, in what form and order the search terms are entered, and in what language the search terms are drawn from.

    'Aren't Google searches, fixed on keywords and individual pages, subversive of the librarian's credo that information needs context and organization to be understood properly?'

    Well, the result of a Google Book Search provides some context, since the term is shown, usually, not only in the context of a single page, i.e. the context of the sentence it's in and the context of the paragraphs before and after the paragraph it's in, but also at least in the context of the page (sometimes several pages) before and after the page it's on. Google Book Search also provides an overall view of the book via the table of contents, providing the context of the section the term's in. This can provide enough information for a person to decide whether getting hold of the book might be worth doing, and these days, with Google Book Search's new feature Library Catalog Search "[q]ueries . . . will automatically include results from library catalogs [including the catalogs of libraries not involved in the digitization project] when appropriate. Each result includes a 'Find Libraries' link to help readers find libraries that hold the book -- ideally a library nearby, or if need be, a library far away."

    You can read more about Google Book Search here.

    I could provide personal testimony about how useful I've found Google Book Search in my work as a librarian, but you can find that sort of thing from a variety of librarians here, and also from non-librarians here.

  2. Was I right? Or was I right?