Monday, April 18, 2005

The Infinite Library.

The Infinite Library by Wade Roush in the May 2005 issue of the MIT Technology Review talks about the Google digitization project and its effect on libraries. A very interesting, long article. Here are some quotes to peak your interest:

  • But some...believe Google’s efforts and others like it will force libraries and librarians to reexamine their core principles—including their commitment to spreading knowledge freely.

  • The stakes are high, both for Google and for the library community—and the technologies and business agreements being framed now could determine how people use libraries for decades to come.

  • But the entire [Google] project, [Susan] Wojcicki admits, hinges on those digitization machines: a fleet of proprietary robotic cameras, still under development, that will turn the digitization of printed books into a true assembly-line process and, in theory, lower the cost to about $10 per book, compared to a minimum of $30 per book today.

  • Neither Google nor its partner libraries have announced exactly how the process will work. But John Wilkin, associate university librarian at the University of Michigan, says it will go something like this: “We put a whole shelfful of books onto a cart, keeping the order intact. We check them out by waving them under a bar code reader. Overnight, software takes all the bar codes, extracts machine-readable records from the university’s electronic catalogue, and sends the records to Google, so they can match them with the books. Then we move the cart into Google’s operations room.”

    This room will contain multiple workstations so that several books can be digitized in parallel. Google is designing the machines to minimize the impact on books, according to Wilkin. “They scan the books in order and return the cart to us,” he continues. “We check them back in and mark the records to show they’ve been scanned. Finally, the digital files are shipped in a raw format to a Google data center and processed to produce something you could use.”

  • Then there are the problems of cataloguing and preserving digital holdings. Without the proper “metadata” attached—­author, publisher, date, and all the other information that once appeared in libraries’ physical card catalogues—a digital book is as good as lost. Yet creating this metadata can be laborious, and no international standard has emerged to govern which kinds of data should be recorded...

  • “The real question for libraries is, what’s the ‘value proposition’ they offer in a digital future?” says [Abby] Smith.


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