Man, I Love This Magical World of Tomorrow

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From the New York Times:

Google…plans to announce an agreement today with some of the nation's leading research libraries and Oxford University to begin converting their holdings into digital files that would be freely searchable over the Web.

It may be only a step on a long road toward the long-predicted global virtual library. But the collaboration of Google and research institutions that also include Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and the New York Public Library is a major stride in an ambitious Internet effort by various parties. The goal is to expand the Web beyond its current valuable, if eclectic, body of material and create a digital card catalog and searchable library for the world's books, scholarly papers and special collections.

Google—newly wealthy from its stock offering last summer—has agreed to underwrite the projects being announced today while also adding its own technical abilities to the task of scanning and digitizing tens of thousands of pages a day at each library.

Read the whole thing.

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  1. I hope they are referring to more than just monographs; that when they say “holdings” they are referring to primary documents like 16th century journals (that haven’t been republished in the 20th century), the real nuts and bolts stuff historians use.

  2. It’s a good thing I don’t believe in an impending Singularity, or I’d be panicking right now.

  3. BTW, back when I used to work in a university archives I digitized some of our holdings. Let me tell you that it is a quite boring pain in the ass process (unless you start reading the documents – which slows one down considerably). I did love working on the correspondence of a fellow who was a pilot in WWII who spent much of the war playing on the beaches of Panama. Civil war letters between soldiers (largely grunts) and loved ones at home was also an edifying experience.

  4. Brian Doherty,

    It will present an interesting challenge to the historical community that’s for sure. Historical and popular “memory” (see something like Pierre Nora’s monumental work The Realms of Memory for what I mean by this) will collide even more than they do now and non-professional historians will probably challenge the nature of the historical profession even more than they do now.

  5. The American Chemical Society is suing Google over a new serch engine, Google Scholar. They feel the FREE search engine infringes on their PAY engine sci-finder scholar.

  6. Hmmmm… What’s in it for Google? I’m suspicious about what their angle is. A publicly owned company wouldn’t be doing this out of the generosity of their hearts.

  7. The reference to Nicholson Baker was very apropos.

    For popular novels and periodicals there is probably nothing wrong with electronic media for public access, but for historical documents it is unlikely that any electronic format can faithfully reproduce all of the critical details of a book that are of interest to an historian. For more on this see “The Island of Lost Maps” by Miles Harvey and “The Book Nobody Read” by Owen Gingerich. I think most libraries don’t have the faintest idea of the value of some of the works they own, assuming that they are even aware of what they own.
    Another problem is that this creates an artificially finite universe — if a piece of knowledge is not available via the electronic catalog it doesn’t exist.

  8. I am reminded of the joke about the man who was spotted at one in the morning on his hands and knees under a streetlight looking around on the ground.

    A police officer walks up and asks him what he is doing, and the man says “I lost my keys, I’m looking for them.”

    “You lost them here in the street?” the officer asks.

    The man replies, “No, I lost them over in that field, but the light is better here.”

    We are increasingly looking only where the light is better, which does threaten in some ways to plunge us, as Baker has suggested, into a sort of New Dark Ages.

  9. Hmmmm… What’s in it for Google? I’m suspicious about what their angle is. A publicly owned company wouldn’t be doing this out of the generosity of their hearts.

    Page clicks = revenue.

  10. “Read the whole thing” indeed.

  11. It’s a good thing I don’t believe in an impending Singularity, or I’d be panicking right now.

    Fret not, little human-thing — even after the Techno-Rapture, there shall still be a place for such as you.

    Now, fetch my slippers.

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