Google “Library” a Scholarly Miss?

Geoffrey Nunberg writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education of the inadequacies of Google’s Library Project. While he concludes that the project is useful for googling, it is less helpful for scholarly research, for the scanning process is error-ridden and fraught with miscategorization.

Nunberg complains,

. . . you need reliable metadata about dates and categories, which is why it’s so disappointing that the book search’s metadata are a train wreck: a mishmash wrapped in a muddle wrapped in a mess.

Start with publication dates. To take Google’s word for it, 1899 was a literary annus mirabilis, which saw the publication of Raymond Chandler’s Killer in the Rain, The Portable Dorothy Parker, André Malraux’s La Condition Humaine, Stephen King’s Christine, The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf, Raymond Williams’s Culture and Society 1780-1950, and Robert Shelton’s biography of Bob Dylan, to name just a few. . .

“Charles Dickens” turns up 182 results for publications before 1812, the vast majority of them referring to the writer. The same type of search turns up 81 hits for Rudyard Kipling, 115 for Greta Garbo, 325 for Woody Allen, and 29 for Barack Obama. (Or maybe that was another Barack Obama.)

Some of these errors, along with an interesting slide, accompany Nunberg’s article.

Nunberg believes that nothing

“. . . should relieve Google of the responsibility of making its collections an adequate resource for scholarly research. . . . Google has, justifiably, described its book-scanning program as a public good. But as Pamela Samuelson, a director of the Center for Law & Technology at the University of California at Berkeley, has said, every great public good implies a great public trust.”

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