PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo APRIL 2006 - VOLUME 15, NUMBER 8
last word
The Terrible Two’s
By Jill Powell

Why Google Book Search might be a good thing.

Fly across the country with Google Maps in satellite view. Find pictures online with Google Images. Search for scholarly articles with Google Scholar. If you haven’t used these Google services before, they’re available when you click “more” on the Google front page.

One of the more controversial subsets is Google Book Search, which allows you to search the full text of published books. Since November 2004, Google has been scanning the library collections of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, the New York Public Library and Oxford University. Google runs its own scanners 24 hours a day and could potentially complete this job in six to 10 years. Google Book Search also contains books from the Partner Program, where publishers authorize Google to scan the full text of (usually current) books.

Will Google replace libraries and publishers? I don’t think so. It’s just another road to information discovery. As people find more books that they want, they will generate more sales for publishers, more traffic to libraries, more demand for out-of-print books and will raise the bar for better research.

Why? Because copyrighted books will not be available for complete viewing. You’ll see snippets, or a few sentences before and after your search terms, but not the entire book unless it is in the public domain (generally published prior to 1923) or the publisher has given permission. Google is not to books what Napster was to music. Google helps you find books; but to read them, you’ll have to buy them or visit a library. There are convenient links to Internet booksellers. Soon Google hopes to link to the Online Computer Library Center world catalog so you can see which libraries have a copy.

Copyright owners (usually publishers) can opt out of the scanning project so that neither titles nor snippets are retrievable, but that would be a mistake. Most authors want their books to be found and read, and more and more research is conducted solely on the Web. Julian Dibbell, author of “My Tiny Life,” feels that Google is like a book reviewer marketing an author’s work by using excerpts, and authors are not compensated for those snippets. Most readers prefer reading print to an e-book anyway.

The downside to this project may be the use of Google to the exclusion of other resources. Not all material from these libraries will be scanned, and these exclusions are not listed on the Google site. For example, Michigan will exclude law, business administration, brittle books, special collections, oversized books and microform (millions of technical reports). The five libraries being scanned aren’t in the top ten rankings for biomedical, nuclear and agricultural engineering, which would be better covered by other libraries. Google should disclose which publishers and databases are contributing to Google services so you know when to search elsewhere (such as a subscription database from one’s academic library or the National Science Digital Library).

Finally a note about privacy. Libraries are careful to uphold a person’s right to privacy when it comes to charged books. Once a book is returned, the link between borrower and book is erased as soon as possible. Google keeps cookies on customers and records visited URLs. The U.S. government could subpoena such information without an individual’s knowledge.

Most librarians welcome Google Book Search and Google’s other services. It makes more information available to more users and helps you locate information you didn’t know about. It will increase use of libraries, purchases at bookstores and may lead to some amazing discoveries when the right person finds that undiscovered material. Librarians are some of Google’s most skilled users, so if you need help searching it, ask us.

Jill Powell is reference and instruction coordinator at the Engineering Library, Cornell University and division chair of the Engineering Libraries Division, ASEE.


ALL THE RIGHT MOVES - By Alvin P. Sanoff
SHAKY GROUND - By Pierre Home-Douglas
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ALL THINGS GREAT AND SMALL - Universities are starting to establish programs to teach nanotechnology to children. But there’s controversy over how to present the information. - By Margaret Loftus
RESEARCH: Setting the Right Course - By Douglas M. Green
ON CAMPUS: A Winning Idea - By Lynne Shallcross
LAST WORD: Opening More Books - By Jill Powell


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