Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More on what the Google Book Search settlement means (and my vision of Google's future)

Since my posts on the Google settlement (here and here), more people have weighed in on what it means. I appreciate everyone who has waded through the proposed settlement and figured out why we should be concerned. One of those people is Jill O'Neill, from NFAIS, who wrote in an email to me (quoted with permission):
Clearly all parties involved in this settlement believe that a searchable repository of book material that has been evaluated and selected by research-oriented librarians represents an information resource of value to knowledge workers, researchers, students and scholars. Despite PR window dressing, very little attention was paid to the general public's interest in and need for access to a fully functional repository. Google Book Search and Google Scholar are aimed at elite populations, just as are the services from NFAIS member organizations. The question becomes whether Google Book Search is a glorified card catalog or if it matches the value and quality of licensed content offerings on platforms from Ebsco, Proquest and Dialog.
O'Neill's email sent my mind in motion and you might not like how my thoughts flowed. (What follows is totally my opinion.)

EBSCO, ProQuest, and others spend a lot time selecting their information sources.
Their reputations are built upon those selections as well as their ability to update their sources quickly and to provide flexible search options. Having worked for a company that was negotiating content for building a search engine, I can tell you that the negotiations go slowly and that much work goes into ensure that the data from those sources is loaded correctly. Quality is extremely important. Missing pages, blurred pages, etc., due operator error are not tolerated.

Also important is depth and completeness of the content. "Holes" in the content -- however they might manifest themselves -- are bad. Sometimes they cannot be avoided (often due to specific licensing agreements). Professional searchers pride themselves on knowing which service has a more complete run of specific journals or higher quality information or more depth of content.

With Google Book Search, the company is digitizing materials that have been selected by librarians who specialize in specific subject areas. (Subject-specific librarians exist in academic research libraries.) Google doesn't have to do any selection because that work has been done for them. But libraries and their users don't just rely on the books in their libraries, they also access books in other libraries through interlibrary loan. And they use databases -- provided by services such as EBSCO, ProQuest and Dialog -- to complement what is in the physical library.

So what does Google need in order to match the value and quality of content that exists in libraries? They need the type of content that is held by fee-based services like EBSCO, ProQuest and Dialog. (Yes, there are many others.)

On June 18, I wondered out loud in the SLA Blog if Google would -- at some point -- purchase Dialog, which had just been purchased by ProQuest. In a comment to that post, Roger Summit wondered what would have happened if Google had purchased Dialog instead of ProQuest. I now know the answer to Summit's question -- We would be closer to having a true digital library, held by one company, that would meet the needs students, researchers and knowledge workers. Yes, this would be a collection for the elite -- those on the good side of the digital and information divide. And it would send shivers through the information industry.

So, here's the next question: Does Google have the vision and guts to do this? We'll have to stay tuned for the answer.

Technorati tags: ,

No comments: