By Geoffrey Nunberg
The Chronicle of Higher Education-August 31, 2009
Seen in that light, 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. If you're looking for a particular edition of Leaves of Grass and simply punch in, "I contain multitudes," that's what you'll get. For those purposes, you want to be able to come in via the book's metadata, the same way you do if you're trying to assemble all the French editions of Rousseau's Social Contract published before 1800 or books of Victorian sermons that talk about profanity.
It's clear that Google designed the system without giving much thought to the need for reliable metadata. In fact, Google's great achievement as a Web search engine was to demonstrate how easy it could be to locate useful information without attending to metadata or resorting to Yahoo-like schemes of classification. But books aren't simply vehicles for communicating information, and managing a vast library collection requires different skills, approaches, and data than those that enabled Google to dominate Web searching.
Nunberg,Geoffrey, "Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars", The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 31, 2009.
Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist, is an adjunct full professor at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley.
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