Monday, June 18, 2012

Google Books, Copyright, and Research

Just a couple weeks ago, a judge ruled that "authors can sue Google in a class-action lawsuit over its plan to create the world's largest digital book library..."

I'm glad that the lawsuit will be moving forward - and I also expect that when the dust clears, Google will be successful in at least keeping Google Book Search as it is.   

That would be great for serious researchers, because as it stands now, Google Book Search is an amazing tool.  Note what a professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis has to say about it:

Google has offered up another new toy for analyzing texts. I’ve been growing in my appreciation for Google Books and its controversial program of scanning in old books because it makes available, sometimes in pdf form, out-of-print texts which are not easy to locate. So now when doing research it is quite easy to track down footnotes, whereas in the past one had to copy the reference down, trudge over to the library, fill out an ILL slip, hope our librarians found a library willing to lend a 150 year old book, and then wait for it to arrive. Instead of weeks of hoping to get a glimpse of a page, now often you can find things instantly, delivered right to your desktop. (No, I don’t get paid by Google for my posts).”[i]

I did a presentation on Google Books earlier this year in which I talked about it in the context of copyright law, research, and data-mining - see here for the whole paper (there were technical difficulties and I had to give my presentation without my PowerPoint, as can be seen in the picture someone snapped below : ) )  In the research section, I pointed out some of the plusses* of Google Book Search for research:

  • Check to see if a specific book covers something you’re interested in
  • Find out which books cite the journal article you are interested in
  • Cut down on interlibrary loan usage
  • Discover rare texts and those with small print runs
  • Highly granular searching: easily find historical concepts that are not easily located using   simple library subject headings.
  • Confirm a quotation or see how a famous quote has been used
  • Discover unknown authors’ and works….
  • And of course… access to stuff that previously only libraries had… (picking out the “best of the best” – decades of collection development work by top-ranked libraries)
·         Minuses? No authority control (i.e. controlled vocabulary), OCR without human help (resulting in scans that are not fully searchable), flawed dates, classification errors, mismatched titles and authors, Gov doc issues, multi-volume issues, and scanning errors.

Google Book Search - a helpful but only supplementary tool in your research toolkit!

 [i] Kloha, Jeff, “Words, Words, Words”, Concordia Theology (blog), December 21, 2010, (6:00 a.m.),