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Brewster On Google Library/Book Search

By - November 27, 2006

“The idea of having only one company control the library of human knowledge is a nightmare.” That’s Brewster Kahle, commenting on Google’s contracts with libraries in its controversial book scanning/search service. I have asked many times on this site whether Google would ever share its scans with the world, and I’ve presumed the answer is no. Kahle confirms that, and comments on the implications.

More from Philipp over at Google Blogoscoped.

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5 thoughts on “Brewster On Google Library/Book Search

  1. JG says:

    Couldn’t you make the same point regarding web search? I like Google; they often provide relevant results. But I am concerned about mentally locking myself in to the results of a single search engine. I rotate often the search engine I use, to make sure my own laziness doesn’t keep me dependent on just one viewpoint.

    It is interesting, because often I will find that on both Google and Yahoo (and yes, even MSN) the top result is relevant to my information need.. but the page itself is different.

    To me, it does not matter if the filters and biases of any one search engine are intentional (human-crafted) or unintentional (machine/algorithm generated). There are going to be biases no matter what, even if it is just the decision about how to weight features. (Perhaps “bias” is the wrong word.. but the point is that different algorithms are consistently going to yield different information.) So it is always good to rotate one’s information sources.

    What is scary to me is that so few of us do this. Through laziness we lock ourselves into these self-inflicted information monopolies.

  2. Michael says:

    Although I don’t disagree with his point, phrasing it so starkly sets up a straw dog of sorts. In fact, the libraries involved are aggressively pursuing their own digitizing projects as well as/aprat from working with Google, and virtually all of that content goes on the Web for free. And the only Google contract with which I’m familiar is not nearly as restrictive, concerning what the library can do with the files it receives, as Mr. Kahle suggests. So Google is not the only game in town by any means, and the libraries are not helping to create a monolith.

    I have always respected Mr. Kahle’s own work and I use his online resources heavily. But the Google digitizing initiative simply isn’t as black-or-white as it’s described here.

    For example, a much more egregious oligopoly on the world’s digital information already exists in the commercial databases that are only for sale to libraries and only available to that tiny fraction of the public who are on a university campus at any given time (products made by ProQuest, Thomson-Gale, Newsbank, etc.). Obviously, they need to recoup the investment they’ve made in creating the digital collections, so no easy solution to this private ownership of knowledge is obvious.

    Also, the choice is not between Google-only access and free digital information, as Kahle implies, but rather between Google-only access and no digital access at all, since so much of what’s on a research library’s shelves would never be digitized otherwise.

    So, while his heart’s in the right place (i.e., where my own is), the analysis given here is far too simplistic. I have other problems with Google Books, and am not worried much about them monopolizing access to important knowledge.

  3. Dave White says:

    “The idea of having only one company control the library of human knowledge is a nightmare.”
    I certainly agree with this statement as this will increase the Google monopoly in one more field which should have been a group effort. May be today it is free foe you and me but tomorrow for the same human knowledge it may start charging to profit from it instead of investing so heavily for free.

  4. Dave White says:

    “The idea of having only one company control the library of human knowledge is a nightmare.”
    I certainly agree with this statement as this will increase the Google monopoly in one more field which should have been a group effort. May be today it is free foe you and me but tomorrow for the same human knowledge it may start charging to profit from it instead of investing so heavily for free.

  5. sazbean says:

    The president of the University of Michigan, Mary Sue Coleman, mentions in her speech (linked from SearchBlog) that Google is giving them a digital copy of every book that is scanned. While Google may not share the copies with the world, the libraries might, although I am sure they will be very careful with copyright issues.

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