Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Big “Duh” Quote from Sergey Brin

This news story discusses Google’s ramping up of its book scanning project since the settlement of its two lawsuits with publishers and authors last fall:

Google gives out-of-print books a new life online
(International Herald Tribune, January 5, 2009)

But the headline for this story, based on this one quote from Sergey Brin, could be “Google Co-Founder Learns what Every Librarian Knew from Day One of Library School”:

“There is fantastic information in books. Often when I do a search, what is in a book is miles ahead of what I find on a Web site.”

What Google is doing with their books project is amazing and its been very useful to me recently both to deliberately answer some question and to serendipitously uncover some resource I hadn’t known about before. But, and this is one point the article eventually makes, it’s a means to an end: the best use of it isn’t to mine tidbits from the books excerpts they make available, but to go to the book itself after you find some useful information through Google books.

And, in another part of this project, Google books may soon be the biggest print-on-demand operation. They’re going to sell, or are doing so already, copies of public domain books for six dollars or so. That would be worth it in many situations; for example, there is a 300 page novel from the early part of the 20th century that is public domain, and I have a PDF copy of it, but printing it out is a pain in the ass, and reading a big sheaf of 8 ½ x 11 pages isn’t the most convenient thing in the world, even if I print it out duplexed, on pre-punched paper, and put it in a binder. But six bucks for a decently printed and bound paperback copy would be well worth it, particularly since I haven’t found any existing copy of the book for sale for less than $25.

So go for it, Google, and full speed ahead - glad the suits were settled.

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