Updated Sept. 1: If you are interested in librarianship, cataloguing, and the metadata aspects of Google Book Search, then read not only Geoff Nunberg’s post linked below but the ongoing comments thread, which is, if anything, more interesting than the original post. Both causes for and cures for metadata flaws are complex, and Google (which is ably represented in the comments) is aware of both. As Nunberg notes, Google’s awareness doesn’t exonerate Google from responsibility. Perhaps the most fascinating thing here, however, is the power of the Language Log blog and a single thoughtful post to stimulate a substantive conversation that actually impacts the world.
Geoff Nunberg at Language Log has a great and passionate post about flaws in the Google Book Search program that aren’t usually part of the IP/privacy debate.
Nunberg’s basic points are that (i) there is basically one chance to do this book scanning thing right; (ii) Google is screwing it up; and (iii) one major way in which Google is screwing it up has to do with metadata errors on a very, very large scale. Google apparently wants to blame its partner libraries for the flaws; Nunberg shows that blame should be laid squarely at Google’s doorstep. Don’t miss the comments, where Nunberg carries on the conversation.
The interesting thing to note about LL’s interest in GBS is that their interest in this resource is primarily scholarly, that is, the GBS archive and database are resources for scholars, among other things. This is in contrast to the usual public cries about large scale privatization of information resources, which consist of flavors of “the public needs access so that it can do/use cool new creative things; culture is cumulative; and lots of great stuff was produced in the first half of the 20th century.” The LL critique of GBS is, in other words, disciplinary, and it asks specific historical questions. For both reasons, it appeals to my sympathies more powerfully and carries more immediate persuasive power than arguments over GBS’s foreclosing access to “orphan” works. Not that the orphan works aren’t important or that orphans aren’t sympathic. They are, always and everywhere, and it’s fair to say that GBS mistreats orphans. Often. Cue the orphan boy from Pirates of Penzance.