Thursday, September 3, 2009

Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars

Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

... The quality of Google's book search will be measured by how well it supports the familiar activity that we have come to think of as "googling," in tribute to the company's specialty: entering in a string of keywords in an effort to locate specific information, like the dates of the Franco-Prussian War. For those purposes, we don't really care about metadata—the whos, whats, wheres, and whens provided by a library catalog. It's enough just to find a chunk of a book that answers our needs and barrel into it sideways.

But we're sometimes interested in finding a book for reasons that have nothing to do with the information it contains, and for those purposes googling is not a very efficient way to search...
The article is worth reading. It highlights some of the pitfalls and errors, especially in terms of dating and categorizing resources, that Google Books is embedding in its metadata while digitizing books. I totally agree... but I also figure that a lot of that stuff would be totally unavailable to me without Google Books. Moral of the story: The thorough scholar will continue to need to be diligent.


  1. Well said, Mark. Google Books can certainly be a big help, but bibliographically, it can be quite hit-or-miss. I normally at least look at WorldCat to double-check, but I wonder if Google might ever consider integrating something like that into Google Books itself. From the excerpt you cited, it doesn't sound like it's a real priority on their to-do list, but from the perspective of scholarly users, it would be a nice feature.

  2. I am glad to see you blogging again! I was missing your posts in my google reader, and I was feeling way behind in appropriating new technology!

    I guess moving a bunch of times and professional commitments provide a valid excuse, but is nice to see you back.

  3. Regarding Worldcat-- integration into Google Books has been around for quite a while. At the bottom of the "get this book" links on the left side, is "Find it in a Library." This calls out to Worldcat, and you can locate the book in a library using your zip code. Check it out.

  4. Thanks for the tip, BookDog. I guess my eyes have just been skipping over that link in the context of the preceding retailer links :-/. I'll certainly be making good use of it from now on, though.