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Google as the world's librarian

Richard L. Brandt [PersonRank 3]

Thursday, October 5, 2006
14 years ago2,864 views

New York University assistant professor of culture and communication Siva Vaidhyanathan recently posted an essay he says he will publish in a longer version as a scholarly article, "A risky Gamble with Google." ...

He worries about the "dangers" of the Google Library project. He's not worried about copyright violations, but seems to be in a panic about putting such a big responsibility in the hands of a commercial company and asks, "Who asked them to do this?" Well, nobody, but anyone else is welcome to do so if they wish. I responded to Siva's complaints on my blog, at ...

I've also posted an essay on my blog talking about why Google, as the world's librarian is a good thing. ...

At the risk of boring you with an overlong essay, I thought I would reproduce a shorter version of the latter essay here, to get your feedback. Here it is:

Google, the most important librarian in two millenia

Larry and Sergey are undoubtedly the greatest and most important librarians since the creation of the Great Library of Alexandria around 300 B.C. That Library survived for about 300 years, and amassed more than 500,000 scrolls, a volume that far surpasses any library created since.

Except, of course, for the great library known as the Internet. Sergey and Larry recognized that something that big requred a new approach to organizing and finding all those texts. The Library of Alexandria shows how a massive database inspires new inventions. In order to find the right texts, the Librarians of Alexandria had to invent new organization and search techniques. They invented the concepts of alphabetization, bibliographies, dictionaries, glossaries, and Grammars, none of which existed before. How different would scholarship be without that Library? And if Larry hadn't come up with the concept of Page Ranks and pledged to never bias search results in favor of advertisers, how good would search be today?

Alexandria also changed world cultures. Scholars from all over the world came there to study and write, from Euclid to Archimedes to the physicist Stratos. Greek – Ptolemy's language – became the official language throughout the Middle East. Scholars at the Library created a Greek translation of the Hebrew Torah, called the Septuagent, which scholars believe was the text Jesus used to teach his Greek-speaking audience. The Septuagent became the Christian Old Testament. How's that for influence?

The Internet is having just as big an impact on the modern world. And that's why Google is essential. The company is dedicated to indexing and providing a guide to all the world's information. That, of course, includes all the books they can digitize. That's also why Google gets into so much trouble with publishers and other copyright holders. Sergey and Larry believe their goal of helping us find any piece of information in the world is more important than ridiculously strict copyright laws that keep most books out of print and stifle creativity.

It's an act that changes world cultures.

So what do you think of Google as the world's librarian? Is it evil for supposedly violating copyrights, is it dangerous to rely on a commercial entity for such an important task, or do you believe that Google is doing a great thing for the world?

DPic [PersonRank 10]

14 years ago #

Is it evil for supposedly violating copyrights,
   is it dangerous to rely on a commercial entity for such an important task, or do you believe that Google is doing a great thing for the world?
both, but I'm not worried

Gary Price [PersonRank 10]

14 years ago #

Noble cause, YES!. Absolutely.

However, I've noticed that many people don't realize that copyright books digitized will only show snippets. See ...
In other words, they don't understand the differernces. Also, subject searching (at this point, I;m sure it will improve) is a challenge. Lots of false drops.

Here's a quote from the NY Times Last November. ...

Let’s remember this quote from the NY Times, November 19, 2006

Mr. Adler [vice president for legal and governmental affairs at the Association of American Publishers], said Google’s contention that its search program might somehow increase sales of books was speculation at best.

“When people make inquiries using Google’s search engine and they come up with references to books, they are just as likely to come to this fine institution to look up those references as they are to buy them,” he said, referring to the Public Library.

To which Google’s Mr. Drummond replied, “Horrors.”

Limited previews are also something else that's part of Google Book Search, Amazon's Search Inside the Book also does a great job.
I recently took several books on a list and compared what was available
from GBS via SITB in terms of limited previews. ...
We've also noticed that when library records are shown they need to be more precise.

But it's too bad people don't take advantage of what libraries ALREADY offer for free from home, office, or anywhere. It's also almost been nearly two years and we have no idea how they are progressing

1) With a library card almost all libraries offer FREE access to millions of full text articles, books, audio books and now video (download to your
MP3 player) and more. I can't list every library but here are lists show what one can access for FREE 24x7x365 with a library card from the San Francisco Public Library and the public library in Minneapolis. Check your local library to see what you have access to for FREE.

San Francisco: ...
Minneapolis ...

As an example, these libraries offer free access to every article published in the NY Times (full image, back to vol. 1., no. 1) FREE.
Btw, these databases can be as simple as a search box or powerful for more precise retrieval. These are the same articles the NY Times sells for a fee.

Again, just not these libraries. More in these articles: ... ...

2) Digitizing books is Not New. It's been going on in one form or another
for 35 years. This month the World eBook Fair is going on with FREE access (normally $8.95/year) to over 500,000 books in PDF. See:

3) Two other companies doing important work (for years) digitizing books that allow you to share them, read the full text, etc. are and NetLibrary. Several hundred thousand books.
ebrary, often sold to companies and libraries also offers a consumer service.
FREE access to over 20,000 books. No limit on how much you can read, simply pay 25 cents to copy or print a page.

Btw, another service, Safari Tech Books (also digitizing books, and free FROM some libraries and for subscription to others) have digitized the full text of thousands of computer science tech books from O'Reilly, McGraw Hill, and others. They even have a new service that let's you read and comment on books before they are published. Here's a look at their consumer service.

Libraries also offer 24x7x365 virtual refernce services around the world. Yes, of course you can call or email but many libraries offer 24x7 interactive chat. Examples:
UK: ...
Library of Congress
These are just a few of many examples.

Librarians are also doing work in ORGANIZING the net. Creating all sorts of tools and directories. In the general sense, the
National Science Digital Library are just a few of many examples.

As a librarian librarianship is also about organization (making things acccessible in a timely and easy manner both online and in print), teaching (how to search), making decisions (collection development), making critical choices (especially important for students) , developing the tools, making the databases accessible (systems librarianship) and much more. In my opinion, potential access doesn't
guarantee retrieval, usage and usability. As databases (of all types) grow larger this will become more of a challenge.

Again, what Google and others (they aren'tt the only one digitizing books) is just one part of what librarianship is all about.

P.S. Page Rank is based on citation analysis developed by
Eugene Garfield in the 1950's. The Google Guys help bring the concept to the web.

Also, at the same time and a bit earlier, Jon Kleinberg now at Cornell, then at IBM, HELPED developed this concept for the web with a project called Clever. In fact, one of Kleinberg's papers is cited in the Anatomy of... paper by Page and Brin. PLEASE, I'm not trying at all to reduce the important and ground breaking work by Brin and Page but it's also important to remember others were involved.
Kleinberg papers:

+ Show PDF

Cited by Brin and Page
2) Hypersearching the Web from Sci American 1999.
by the Clever Team ...

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