Google and Digitisation (again)

Posted Tuesday June 30, 2009 by John Gunders in |

An interesting article by Lynne Spender in Meanjin about Google’s ambitions to digitise the world’s books (probably behind the paywall):

Perhaps I am optimistic by nature, but when Google first announced that it was planning to digitise the world’s books and create the greatest library ever, I was enthusiastic. I thought it was an example of digital technology doing for our generation—and those that follow—what print technology did for the generations of readers and writers after its introduction in the fifteenth century. Just as Gutenberg’s printing press brought increased and independent access to knowledge and information 600 years ago, it seemed possible that the Google Library Project’s searchable database of the world’s books would allow access to our entire cultural heritage in digital format. It would be a new res publica litterarum for a new age of digital enlightenment.

Spender’s article focused mainly on the IP and copyright issues of digitising books, but my interest is in the fundamental issue of a for-profit company owning potentially the only digital copies of the Western literary heritage. I’ve written about this before.

To this point Google seems to have acted honourably (the “Paper of Record” issue notwithstanding), but I still fear that one day all this treasure will find itself behind a paywall. Organisations such as Project Gutenberg cannot compete with the finances of Google and will be left behind.

As an update to my earlier post, it seems that Google has finally sorted out the technical problems and most of the material that was available through “Paper of Record” is now available through the Google News Archive Search. There is an interesting overview here from Inside Higher Ed. However, there remain complaints that the search interface is not nearly as user-friendly as the original.

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