Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Spirit of 1899

In "Google Books: A Metadata Train Wreck," Berkeley library science professor and NPR commentator Geoffrey Nunberg gives a number of examples of the flawed metadata in the current iteration of Google Book Search. Bloggers have noted the humorous presence of images of digitizers' hands appearing in page facsimiles, but the errors Nunberg catalogs seems to indicate an absence of human minder.

Start with dates. To take GB's word for it, 1899 was a literary annus mirabilis, which saw the publication of Raymond Chandler's Killer in the Rain, The Portable Dorothy Parker, André Malraux' La Condition Humaine, Stephen King's Christine, The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf, Raymond Williams' Culture and Society, Robert Shelton's biography of Bob Dylan, Fodor's Guide to Nova Scotia, and the Portuguese edition of the book version of Yellow Submarine, to name just a few. (You can find images of most of these on my slides, here — I'm not giving the url's since I expect Google will fix most of these particular errors now that they're aware of them).

And while there may be particular reasons why the 1899 date comes up so much, these misdatings are spread out all over the place. A book on Peter Drucker is dated 1905, a book of Virginia Woolf's letters is dated 1900, Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities is dated 1888, and an edition of Henry James 1897 What Maisie Knew is dated 1848.

It might seem easy to cherry-pick howlers from a corpus as exensive as this one, but these errors are endemic. Do a search on "internet" in books written before 1950 and Google Scholar turns up 527 hits.

Thanks to Michael Thomas for the link.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home