Thursday, January 11, 2007

The positives of massive book digitization

In the blog post Cows and the Colossus, Stuart Weibel, talks about a presentation give by Mike Keller of Stanford University entitled "Mass Digitization in Google Book Search: Effects on Scholarship." Keller believes that Google Book Search (GBS) will revolutionize access to books more than anything else we have done to date.

In constructing his argument, Keller provided these facts (quoting Weibel):

  • Digitization of the card catalog resulted in a 50 % increase in book usage
  • Google indexing is the #1 driver of article usage in High Wire – by a large margin (10 to 1 beyond the next highest, if I understood him correctly)
  • Metadata searching (what Keller describes as subtle searching), in combination with novel methods of taxonomic search and citation cross-linking, dramatically improves discovery and navigation within large result sets.
So if just digitizing the card catalog improved access, imagine what digitizing entire books will do (as the argument goes).

Keller makes several excellent points, which you'll find if you read the post. But the one that stood out to me was (quoting Weibel):
Stepping away from the somewhat daunting implications for libraries, Keller suggested that the most important thing about GBS is that it has occasioned a great debate about the importance of copyright in the intellectual life of the nation (and the world).
The debate is occurring because there is a conflict-- real or perceived -- over adherence to the law and providing access. There is also a debate because users can see that access is being limited because of copyright. Users are being directly affected, which forces them to learn about this debate and have an opinion about it. Those who follow copyright, like myself, know of legal cases that have caused industries to wake up to copyright (e.g., Tasini and American Geophysical Union v. Texaco, Inc.), but this action is causing users to wake up. And that is good thing.

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