Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Another Reason Why Google Isn't God

Google has, to the best of my knowledge, never claimed to be omniscient. While their oft repeated motto, "Don't be evil", might be seen as a claim of omnibenevolence, Google usually is straightforward about their interests: Reconciliation and redemption are outside of their purview, but data and dollars are right up their alley.

Thus it should be no surprise to the watching world that the Google Books project falls short of divine infallibility. (In spite of Google invoking the cadences of Genesis 1:1 in the project history.) This especially has been no surprise to the watching academic world which still has many mixed feelings about the benefits to be derived from the digitized corpus of the bibliosphere. Geoffrey Nunberg has written an excellent exposé of the shortcomings of Google Books when it comes to meeting the needs of researchers.

Of most interest to me as a librarian, though, are Mr. Nunberg's words of advice to librarians everywhere. He exhorts us to hope that Google "may be responsive to pressure from its university library partners—who weren't particularly attentive to questions of quality when they signed on with Google—particularly if they are urged (or if necessary, prodded) to make noise about shoddy metadata by the scholars whose interests they represent."

This blog post is only a leaf in the tossing forest of the Internet, but it is my effort to heed Geoffrey's advice and put in my $0.02. Our first response as librarians to digital books may not be embracing them, but, as librarians, we do have something to contribute when it comes to organizing them. Our catalogs (if I can persist in using such a quaint term) are not about the arranging of material volumes on physical shelves; they are about the organization of knowledge. Or so my Cataloging 101 course told me many years ago. Librarians are not divine, either, but neatness is next to godliness. Google Books is one horrific mess that needs a good cataloging. We already cataloged it once. Like housecleaning, though, it may need to be done again.