14 August 2007

Google Books: A Cautionary Tale

Google Books is important:

the Google Project has, however unintentionally, made not only conventional libraries themselves, but other projects digitizing cultural artifacts appear inept or inadequate. Project Gutenberg and its 17,000 books in ascii appear insignificant and superfluous beside the millions of books that Google is contemplating. So do most scanning projects by conventional libraries. As a consequence of the assumed superiority of Google’s approach, therefore, it is highly unlikely that either the funds or the energies for an alternative project of similar magnitude will become available, nor are the libraries who are lending their books (at significant costs to their funds, their books, and their users) likely to undertake such an effort a second time. With each scanned page, Google Books’ Library Project, by its quantity if not necessarily by its quality, makes the possibility of a better alternative unlikely. The Project may then become the library of the future, whatever its quality, by default. So it does seems important to probe what kind of quality Google Book Project might present to an ordinary user that Google envisages wanting to find a book.

But also unsatisfactory:

The Google Books Project is no doubt an important, in many ways invaluable, project. It is also, on the brief evidence given here, a highly problematic one. Relying on the power of its search tools, Google has ignored elemental metadata, such as volume numbers. The quality of its scanning (and so we may presume its searching) is at times completely inadequate. The editions offered (by search or by sale) are, at best, regrettable.

Rather worrying. (Via O'Reilly Radar.)

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