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Google’s book plan has ruled news headlines over the last few weeks, as opponents and defendants set forward their arguments in court. If passed, Google Books would be the largest online book catalogue and shop. Naturally, the Amazon and eBays of the world are peeved. Google is taking away the foundation of their businesses with a whirlwind of resources they could never dream of obtaining.
While book sellers, search engines and a lot of annoyed authors across the world are worried about the infinite money to be lost if Google Books passes through court, a new group of critics recently emerged — the academics. At a conference held recently at the University of California Berkeley, Geoffrey Nunberg, adjunct professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, spiced up the dialogue by stating that Google Books will be “the last library.” According to Nunberg, a project of this scale, both in terms of cost and influence, will only happen once, leaving Google as the world’s last library.
So what? Google is already the world’s leading dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, why not add library to its list of attributes, right? Well, hardcore cultural preservationist would argue the prospect of a corporation holding ‘metaphorical rights,’ i.e. the authority to catalogue books from Chuck Klosterman to Goethe, to the entire world’s literature. Taking on the world’s books also implies a responsibility to draw the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate, tolerable and intolerable, ‘Cultural’ and culturally offensive and on and on across a number of differing cultural lines and across the internet.
Aside from the theoretical issues threatened by Google becoming an even stronger cultural curator, Google Books is simply not a good library, or at least not yet. Nunberg candidly criticized the viability of Google’s ‘library,’ stating that thousands, if not millions, of metadata mistakes in GoogleBooks, (my favorite of which being that Susan Bordo’s 2003 edition of Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body dated 1899 is categorized under Health & Body), make it a laughable source for academic research. Google Books doesn’t even use the Dewey Decimal System. Instead, the world’s (possibly) soon to be largest library uses the commercial format BISAC, which is comically bad for surfing through the largest library ever. As Nunberg stated, “In short, Google has taken a group of the world’s great research collections and returned them in the form of a suburban-mall bookstore.”
Most of us are not academics, but almost all of us are Google users. While I’m excited about the prospect of emerging transparency in pursuing for literature offered by Google Books, I’m also wondering if I will be able to adapt my ‘keyword inquiries’ into library format.