Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Jersey goes Google

Princeton University's library will become the 12th library to join Google Book Search, according to an article this morning that I found on Lifehacker's Daily News Roundup (credited to Yahoo News, ironically enough!). Score one for the Garden State!

This is of course wonderful news, as it demonstrates that after an initial period of uncertainty about getting involved in large-scale third party cooperative digitization projects, the big university libraries are beginning to see the benefits of letting the private sector help them with some of the heavy lifting. And from a practical standpoint, the more libraries that get involved with Google Book Search, the better chance they'll have to smooth out some of the rough edges in the existing service.

While it's great to have even just one copy of a rare or out-of-print text available, a lot of these books have experienced some significant wear and tear, so it would be nice to be able to consult multiple copies of the same edition scanned from other libraries. Not only would also vastly improve quality control to have additional copies available online, but from a digital Preservation angle the built-in redundancy would help Google and the library profession guard against any accidental data losses that may crop up in the medium and long-term.

And although as a librarian I naturally frown upon the practice of writing in a library text, in the digital aggregate these marginalia could one day prove as valuable as those found in the Medieval manuscript tradition. Imagine if these handwritten comments were also indexed by Google Book Search, such that when you looked at a particular item in a library's collection you could compare it against annotations made in every other known copy of that book as well. It seems a trivial thing until you reach a certain critical threshold of participation, at which point the study of library book marginalia could easily become a legitimate field of inquiry!

(Hmmm. I think I may have a thesis topic for a future Ph.D. here...)

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