Creating a global online library will spread knowledge in the quickest way to the most people

Strong Words Of Praise for the Google library project from Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan. She says beyond the emerging legal challenges, we must not lose sight of the transformative nature of Google's plan -- or the good that can come from it. "Imagine what this means for scholars, school kids and you, who, until now, might have discovered only a fraction of the material written on any subject. Or picture a small, impoverished school -- in America or anywhere in the world -- that does not have access to a substantial library but does have an Internet connection."


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Um, OK but...

I am disappointed in this precisely because it comes from a university administrator. I had hoped that some university administrator somewhere was in touch with reality. To equate the digitization project undertaken by Google with mass literacy, or the enlightenment is absurd.

Certainly the advent of the mass produced printed word changed the world greatly, but Google is not Gutenberg, digitized books are no panacea for the world's problems. Dr. Coleman notes that "Google plans to make its index searchable to every person in the world with Internet access," and this is all well and good, but what about the people without Internet access? While there is talk of a $100 laptop what about the electricity to run it, and the cable to connect it to the World Wide Web.

Simply look at the penetration of the Internet into the countries that need development assistance the most. The CIA World Factbook, available online at: is a useful source. Even countries that have remarkable numbers of WWW users such as China (which is ranked third in the world at rder/2153rank.html) has only .071 Internet connections per person. (94 MM for ~1.3B people). The nations ranked toward the bottom of the table such as Afghanistan or Tajikistan with only thousands of Internet users... how is Google Print going to help them.

The author notes that users who want to look at public domain works will be presented with them in full text. That is nothing new, we can go back to Gutenberg, project Gutenberg in fact, for that. That is not news; putting public domain works in the hands of the public electronically since the 1970's. The author also notes that Google will show excerpts of books of which the copyright is intact and direct users to sites to purchase or borrow those. It seems to me that and its ilk, and librarians fairly well have those markets sewn up as well.

What scares me most are the points she makes in just two paragraphs:

Imagine what this means for scholars, school kids and you, who, until now, might have discovered only a fraction of the material written on any subject. Or picture a small, impoverished school -- in America or anywhere in the world -- that does not have access to a substantial library but does have an Internet connection.

Students coming to my campus today belong to the Net Generation. By the time they were in middle school, the Internet was a part of their daily lives. As we watch the way students search for and use information, this much is clear: If information is not digitized, it will not be found.

I can only imagine the terror scholars or school kids will face when presented with the avalanche of information that Google intends to make available. We as librarians play an important role in helping the scholar or school kid reduce the signal to noise ratio and harvest the authoritative from the absurd.

The idea that information, if not digitized will not be found, is not a solution as the author seems to think, but a deficiency that the schools have only exacerbated of late. The schools, from elementary to university have a duty to make their students information literate. Students today are faced with a myriad of resources but most often turn to digitized information and in my experience most often Google. The information they find is often anything but helpful. Today I saw a school child use Google to find out how to spell 'urgent'. The student typed 'urgint' and thankfully it returned "Do you mean urgent?, but it certainly is no dictionary, even though Google has a dictionary feature. The student looses all that the a dictionary- a big heavy book with all its definitions and pronunciations and all those other new words to stumble across and learn- provides.

I recall from several years ago Ask Jeeves had current queries and most of them were phrased in the form of a question, fantastic for Jeopardy but not the best way to locate specific information. Without proper training in composing queries, the use of Boolean operators (yes they do work in Google see students are simply relying on luck rather than method to do their research.

The idea that a university administrator would say information that is not digitized will not be found and chalk it up the 'Net Generation,' without realizing what a great problem this is and endeavoring to solve it is simply abhorrent to me as a student, and as a librarian.

Notwithstanding any copyright issues that Google Print raises the true problems are that digitization does not equal ubiquity and that computers require more technical skill to operate than a book. We all had books as children before we could read, we could all operate them and as our skills grew we could interpret the pictures in our first books and we moved on from there to identifying words and reading.

While Google Print will make it easier for some to access the written word in digital form, it does nothing for those without access to Google, or to those who will not be helped by Shakespearean Sonnets.

I'm sure a barely literate Kenyan subsistence farmer would much rather have a picture book that shows him how to plant and irrigate with his limited resources than a laptop and a WiFi card.

Sure, Google Print is a neat idea, but it is not the solution to anything.

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