The Sober Librarian: Google Book Search

Google Book Search – a project that has Google working with major US and international libraries to digitize out-of-copyright (and many still-under-copyright) books and make them freely accessible on the internet (and keyword-searchable!) has been an exciting, and controversial, development for libraries. (More about Google Book Search).

One the one hand, if you believe the hype it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Here’s a promotional video from Google (full disclosure: Erin McKean, the dress blogger/lexicographer, is a friend of mine).

On the other hand, there are basic concerns about the quality of Google Books’ scans, a topic addressed recently by Duke’s own Scholarly Communications Officer, as well as ongoing debates about corporate vs. academic control of content and access to it, and all sorts of other library & scholarship philosophy issues (a starting place, if you’re interested in reading about these issues, is the Wikipedia article on Google Book Search.)

Where do I come down? Let me leave the philosophical discussions aside for the moment, since this is a blog about library tools and tips. Google Book Search is a currently available tool that scholars and readers should be aware of. Like any other tool, it works well for some things and not for others. It can be very valuable if you are an archaeologist in Crete and want to check a description or illustration of some pottery in the 1912 volume “Explorations in the Island of Mochlos,” which no self-respecting library would allow you to check out and stow in your luggage for a transatlantic flight (it’s out of print, and a reprint edition is selling, used, for $295!). It’s not useful if you want to read a novel – it’s much easier to purchase a five-dollar copy of Jane Austen’s Persuasion to read on the plane. Give it a try and see if it works for your needs. I wish you happy serendipitous discoveries!

Written by Phoebe Acheson