Thursday, December 08, 2005

Who are Google kidding ?

I saw this article by Nikesh Arora, who is vice-president of European operations for Google, on the site and nearly hit the roof; goodness knows what librarians (and indeed readers) will make of the following comment:

The challenge is that most of the information in the world is not yet online, which makes it impossible to find unless you know exactly what to look for - and where. In this process, Google accepts that what its partners and customers see as opportunities, critics might see as threats.

Take, for example, Google's new book search service. Millions of out-of-print and out-of-copyright books are gathering dust in libraries everywhere.

Information is "impossible to find" ? What are libraries there for - oh yes, for books to gather dust in, apparently... I must say that I find such a casual dismissal of a valuable and well-established profession totally insulting ! Were I a librarian, I would be spitting feathers right now. Clearly Nikesh Arora has never been near a library, or s/he would know that librarians are the best starting point for finding all sorts of information, and that librarians are knowledgeable and (for the most part) very friendly people who will go out of their way to assist their readers ! The number of messages that appear on Child_Lit each week from librarians asking if anyone can remember or identify a book for which a reader is searching attests to the effort that these lovely folk put in on their readers' behalf.

I have to say that I've never seen any books gathering dust in either the public library or the Bodleian Library here in Oxford. Both are extremely well used, and the public library service as a whole in Oxford looks (from this reader's point of view) to be very well used. I often have to reserve a book I want to read because it is out on loan - and I'm not talking about the sole copy of a title, either - these are titles of which there are often multiple copies of which many are out on loan.

Google offers a pretty good search service - it's certainly the only search engine I use, and some of their other services are also good (I am using their Blog service, after all), but this obsession with books is starting to grate on my nerves more than a little. I do hope that someone points out to them that they don't OWN the world's knowledge !


Jill said...

librarians are knowledgeable and (for the most part) very friendly people

Aww, and you're not just saying that 'cause some of your blog buddies are librarians! :)

The reason we're (or at least I'm) not spitting any feathers is that these sweeping statements are...ridiculous to the point of being just plain silly. The list of stuff that these grand plans ignore starts with the big COPYRIGHT issue and goes on to include smaller things like the invisible web (subscription databases and other non-crawlable pages), the greater browsability and contrast level (pixels and so on) of print, the audience for these "gathering dust" books (which generally speaking has access to these university libraries in the first place), the role of trained intermediaries in "knowing exactly what to look for", etc.

I like Google, too, and I have some degree of respect for the idea of pursuing an impossibly large goal - but, imo, it's more of a publicity stunt than a serious threat to anything. Although, admittedly, I haven't been keeping up with the latest developments in Google's attempts to get around copyright laws (at least here in the US!)

Jill said...

p.s. - distinction to be made (not a clear distinction in Google quote): public libraries vs. university libraries. Google seems to be targeting university libraries - scholarly publications - although I'm sure they're eventually gonna go for all the popular stuff (fiction and non-fiction) that you'd find in public libraries sometime too. But most of that is copyrighted!

Michele said...

No I'm not saying librarians are for the most part friendly because I have Blog buddies who are librarians. I've been using libraries for many years and I've met very few who were not friendly !

I think Google need to rethink what they're doing because I'm not convinced it's going to benefit the wider world of knowledge-seekers as much as some people seem to think. I admit when I first heard about the project I was excited - but the more I hear about it the less excited, and the more baffled and infuriated I become !

Fence said...

Whats that noise to data ratio? Pretty soon you'll be getting so many hits on google it won't be worth using. And as jil pointed out the invisible web/subscription based sites are what most research people use.

Michele said...

Indeed - I can get access to most subscription journals via my Bodleian Library membership !