Saturday, September 5, 2009

Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars; Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/31/09

Geoffrey Nunberg via Chronicle of Higher Education; Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars:

"I'm actually more optimistic than some of my colleagues who have criticized the settlement. Not that I'm counting on selfless public-spiritedness to motivate Google to invest the time and resources in getting this right. But I have the sense that a lot of the initial problems are due to Google's slightly clueless fumbling as it tried master a domain that turned out to be a lot more complex than the company first realized. It's clear that Google designed the system without giving much thought to the need for reliable metadata. In fact, Google's great achievement as a Web search engine was to demonstrate how easy it could be to locate useful information without attending to metadata or resorting to Yahoo-like schemes of classification. But books aren't simply vehicles for communicating information, and managing a vast library collection requires different skills, approaches, and data than those that enabled Google to dominate Web searching.

That makes for a steep learning curve, all the more so because of Google's haste to complete the project so that potential competitors would be confronted with a fait accompli. But whether or not the needs of scholars are a priority, the company doesn't want Google's book search to become a running scholarly joke. And it may be responsive to pressure from its university library partners—who weren't particularly attentive to questions of quality when they signed on with Google—particularly if they are urged (or if necessary, prodded) to make noise about shoddy metadata by the scholars whose interests they represent. If recent history teaches us anything, it's that Google is a very quick study."

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