Thursday, August 10, 2006


Yesterday, the University of California system announced that the Google Book Search project has expanded to include UC's huge collection of volumes. The official announcement contains interesting rhetoric about preservation in the face of disaster and the project of knowledge-building more generally.

The Chronicle of Higher Education' s coverage addressed some of the controversy about copyright in "U. of California System's 100 Libraries Join Google's Controversial Book-Scanning Project" and the fact that UC had already partnered with Yahoo in the Open Content Alliance. Actually, it would seem that the U.C. digitization dance card is now somewhat overbooked, given that they also recently announced a deal with Microsoft.

Meanwhile Siva Vaidhyanathan reiterated his concerns about secrecy and proprietary practices, which were formulated early in the Google project with his opinion piece about "A Risky Gamble with Google" in the Chronicle.

Having watched documents being digitized at Readex last summer, I know that it is a very labor-intensive process, when done well. For a small town in Vermont, the metadata industry was thriving and local people were engaged with processing the Congressional Record rather than lumber. At least Google has been skeptical about "semantic web" technology that would reduce the role of live minders in search engine algorithms.

Nonetheless, I think that libraries should be very wary of outsourcing this process, and that the public should have the foresight to support more taxpayer-funded initiatives to make sure that volumes owned by the public remain part of the public trust. Our information heritage is as much a part of our infrastructure as roads, bridges, and dams, and Google is obviously interested in profiting from it.

(Believe it or not, there's also Google, The Musical from the Minnesota Fringe Festival. You can click on this link to save you the trouble of searching for it. Here's their MySpace site.)

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