October 01, 2009

Will Google Books "get it right"?

Last week we summarized some of Geoffrey Nunberg concerns about Google Books' shortcomings. His key point is that Google failed to realize the value of the information about the publication itself: the date, author and subject matter classification (the metadata.) To the casual Googler or reader, this metadata is of little concern it's enough to quickly look up in a book to find out when a event occurred, or simply type into Google "kennedy assassination dallas" But serious researchers always consider their sources. Libraries facilitate that work by making the metadata accessible in their catalogues and by providing authoritative sources in books and other online resources.

In his conclusion, Nunberg, a linguist, and professor at the School of Information at the university of California at Berkeley draws attention to the way libraries and the Internet complete one another and why he remains optimistic about Google Books.
a lot of the initial problems are due to Google's slightly clueless fumbling as it tried master a domain that turned out to be a lot more complex than the company first realized. It's clear that Google designed the system without giving much thought to the need for reliable metadata. In fact, Google's great achievement as a Web search engine was to demonstrate how easy it could be to locate useful information without attending to metadata ... But books aren't simply vehicles for communicating information, and managing a vast library collection requires different skills, approaches, and data than those that enabled Google to dominate Web searching.
Whether or not the needs of scholars are a priority, the company doesn't want Google's book search to become a running scholarly joke...If recent history teaches us anything, it's that Google is a very quick study.
(Geoffrey Nunberg. The Chronicle of Higher Education; Aug 31, 2009)

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