Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Differentiating Google's Book Search and Other Digital Initiatives

Today I was reviewing the readings for my two ISchool classes for the next couple of weeks. Of course, no surprise, they merge almost completely, both delving into metadata. I have a feeling I'm either going to come to a real understanding of how important it is, or I'm going to never want to hear the word again after this semester...

But anyway, that wasn't my point. In skimming digitization readings over the next couple of weeks, it occurs to me that Google comes at this whole thing (Book Search) from a decidedly "no metadata" point of view, so now I'm beginning to get some of the complaints that were early on mysterious to me. Those who complained about how searching a book's words would reveal little bits of the book without its context, and this was a very bad idea. As I read more about how much metadata contributes to the preservation of context (in myriad ways, I'm about to learn all about), it seems all the clearer that Google isn't at all about that. It's not that Google fails to take context into account, it's that context is simply and completely irrelevant to its goal: to get the text into the stream. What libraries have provided, the rich resource of context, and continue to provide even in the digital environment with metadata-rich online collections, is simply a completely different thing, a horse of a different color, apples and oranges, etc. It does not follow at all that all use of digital materials requires context. In fact, it is one hallmark of creativity that artists take things out of context, seeing them in new ways never before imagined.

So if libraries believe that context is important in the digital environment (no argument here), it's not that Google must be stopped, but that Google just does not add anything to the mix regarding *that* value. To suggest that it adds nothing to the mix at all goes way further than seems justified. To say that because Google does not further this need, it does not further any need is a non sequitur, no? But isn't that what many in the library community were, are saying?

Something else to explore.

1 comment:

Carlos Ovalle said...

I don't know if that's where the stronger criticisms about the Google project are coming from. It's not that Google is doing something different than what a library is doing that's the problem- it's that people seem to believe that the Google project is a replacement for a library's services. They are apples and oranges, but a lot of people are only seeing apples. Of course, I might be reading different things than you are. ^_^ Which early critiques were you talking about?