Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Article: Inheritance and loss? A brief survey of Google Books

The Google Books Project has drawn a great deal of attention, offering the prospect of the library of the future and rendering many other library and digitizing projects apparently superfluous. To grasp the value of Google’s endeavor, we need among other things, to assess its quality. On such a vast and undocumented project, the task is challenging. In this essay, I attempt an initial assessment in two steps. First, I argue that most quality assurance on the Web is provided either through innovation or through “inheritance.” In the later case, Web sites rely heavily on institutional authority and quality assurance techniques that antedate the Web, assuming that they will carry across unproblematically into the digital world. I suggest that quality assurance in the Google’s Book Search and Google Books Library Project primarily comes through inheritance, drawing on the reputation of the libraries, and before them publishers involved. Then I chose one book to sample the Google’s Project, Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. This book proved a difficult challenge for Project Gutenberg, but more surprisingly, it evidently challenged Google’s approach, suggesting that quality is not automatically inherited. In conclusion, I suggest that a strain of romanticism may limit Google’s ability to deal with that very awkward object, the book.
The findings outlined in the entire article are interesting and some are not a surprise. As he wraps things up, the author (Paul Duguid) states what we wish wasn't true:
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.
There are now 27 libraries that are part of this project. It would be interesting to hear from them either how they are working with Google to improve the quality of what Google is doing or why they feel this quality is acceptable. Perhaps they are looking past these problems and seeing something grander than what we see.

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