Google Book Search Will Win – But It’ll Be Pyrrhic

rpl_summer2009It’s good to see the intellectual ferment whipped up around the Google Book Search settlement particularly as we approach the September 4th “opting out” deadline for publishers and authors.

However, as a sometimes Google watcher, a few observations:

  • Google is still the most popular web search engine with almost 70% of web search going through its main search tools (it is also, the richest & most powerful multi-national company in the world)
  • Google Book Search is set to become the largest online bookstore ever conceived (little wonder that Amazon is opposed to it)
  • As archivists and librarians, how do we feel about this project?
  • Don’t we have a role to play in advocating for free and open access to this content based on suitable preservation and descriptive standards? (The metadata in Book Search is a disaster as this article details.)
  • Isn’t this poor stewardship of the corpus of scholarship that our researchers and students need to do their work???
  • In the monograph “Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View from Europe” by Jean-Nol Jeanneney, President of the Bibliothque nationale de France …..former Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Ian Wilson, says some important things about the project.
  • However, even though the French were deeply opposed to the Google project, even the BNF see Gallica has changed its tune:

Mon Dieu! France’s National Library gives in to Google

Perhaps, at this point, resistance is futile.

3 thoughts on “Google Book Search Will Win – But It’ll Be Pyrrhic

  1. Hi Dean. I attended a symposium about Google Book Search last Friday, where Geoff Nunberg spoke about GBS metadata. He makes lots of good points, and his presentation was amusing.

    However, one of the librarians in the audience (not me, but the director of the UC Merced Library) pointed out that metadata errors–while certainly problematic–would not necessarily preclude people from finding the work they want. Even if a date or category is wrong (sometimes absurdly so), full text search will often get the user to the right place anyway. The metadata details are just one “access point,” to use library lingo.

    Also, I think Nunberg downplays Google’s contention that many metadata errors come from providers (in many cases, libraries). This seems reasonable to me–no catalog is perfect, but usually the level of error is acceptable. It’s just that now the errors are more obvious thanks to Google’s grand stage.

    Final thought: I wish that the world’s national libraries were taking on this project rather than Google. The commercial imperatives of Google are cause for concern. On the other hand, nobody else ever stepped up to the plate. And any massive digitization project requires massive money. So I reluctantly support the GBS settlement, and if it passes will definitely keep my eyes open (like many of us will) for abuses of Google’s market position.

  2. Pingback: Google Books Settlement Notes #2 « The eBook Test

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