Wednesday, April 22, 2009

If an Archive Falls in a Forest, Does it Make a Sound?

There's a chilling possible conclusion to be reached from "Digital Archives That Disappear," which explains how Google News purchased, a news collection that was particularly prized by historians for its coverage of Mexican history. Today's Inside Higher Ed writes that the American Historical Association raised the alarm in "'Paper of Record' Disappears, Leaving Historians in the Lurch." The Google forum of angry former users also includes many amateur genealogists who are joining their professional brethren in expressing irritation over what they consider the company's insufficient explanation of the abrupt yanking of access to content they had been researching:

We're currently working on the most effective way to search and browse this valuable content. We're doing our best to find a solution to include as much of the acquired content as possible.

While a lot of this content has been made available through Archive search, we're still refining processes to include incompatible newspaper images in our index. We're also working with certain publishers to acquire the rights to display their content. All of this takes time, and we appreciate your patience. We're constantly making improvements to ensure the best user experience.

Often when I describe my argument about digital libraries in the eighth chapter of the Virtualpolitik book, I'm surprised to hear people's incredulity when considering the possibility that I raise that a private corporation might not be the best conservator for digital copies of materials in the public domain. No academic likes to sound like a proponent of conspiracy theories, so stories like this can be useful to encourage caution about Google's digital acquisitions.

As the New York Times explains in "Google’s Plan for Out-of-Print Books Is Challenged," researchers are also expressing concern this month about Google's acquisition of access rights to orphaned works.

(Thanks to Siva Vaidhyanathan for the links!)

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Blogger RJ said...

Geez Liz-

When exactly does the cat fight end? It slays me to see the great American Us versus Them debate rage on( I comment as a Canadian). As person who pioneered the digitization of newspapers in the world with our company, Cold North Wind, I fail to see how this acrimony between Academics and Google helps 'joe public' access the public record. I have stated on numerous occasions that the newspaper represents 'our' only record of daily public life for the past 500 years with a special emphasis on the word "public".

I have been through the grinding wheels of both Google and many public institutions whose goal it seems is to preserve and present history from Newspapers. Both have let me down.

When we began our mission in 1999, there were no standards for digitization. It was a process of establishing a widely adopted TIF format combined with a well deployed viewing software (Adobe Acrobat). I think it naive that standards established by the NDNP in 2008 will be anymore long lasting that the 5 1/2 inch floppy disc.

In simple mathematics, if one looks at the monies available for the NDNP project from the NEH and divides them amongst all of the newspaper microfilm page images that exist, just in the continental United States, we should have a fine database by 2100.

It's simply absurd not to call some form of Detante between Google and the public institutions. It's time to form what would be a tremendous 'Public" record database of digitized newspaper microfilm for this generation and all others to come.

Otherwise we are doomed to continue this provincial squabble to the detriment of all of the 'public'.

R.J. (Bob) Huggins
Cold North Wind Inc.

5:39 AM  

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