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I've been worried about Google for a long time. If they don't index something or mis-index it, it becomes essentially invisible.

I also have an essay on this (actually two linked ones, here's the first):

Google and the Dissemination of Knowledge

I spent much of my professional career developing search and retrieval techniques and Google uses really primitive algorithms. The measures for retrieval are relevance vs recall. High recall means you deliver lots of stuff, but very little of it is useful. That's Google's model. Because the response time is so quick and it is easy to scroll through 10 or 50 hits people find something to look at. Studies have shown that people will take something in the first 20 items returned (this is true for library research as well) regardless of whether it is really what they need.

The poor recall means that you don't know what Google didn't deliver. Since the bulk of the searches are for trivia and shopping people tend not to mind.

Just try to find images or other non-text material to see one of the major failings.

I think the popularity of Wikipedia is because the articles have high relevance, even if they are sometimes inaccurate.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sun Jun 14th, 2009 at 09:50:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"If they don't index something or mis-index it, it becomes essentially invisible."

No more invisible than it was prior to being scanned by Google.  That is, we're not stupid enough to destroy the originals just because Google has scanned them.  Hard-copies still exist.  Libraries still exist.  Inter-library loan still exists.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 11:47:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They don't exist however.

Books are being warehoused at our major libraries.

I've been on internal university discussions regarding this issue. Increasingly, books are being stored elsewhere.

One of the big difficulties we are facing now is that universities are shaving library budgets by moving to a page-print on demand model. This is OK for people in the sciences, but those in the humanities still have research that is wedded to the book.

The future library will not be a home for books, that's for sure. All universities in the US are not budgeting for such libraries of the past. The future library will be totally digital, and because of that, university presses and small presses will crater and collapse.

Increasingly, schools and presses are joining the open journal movement which has created a space for peer review online, a space that avoids the ridiculously high costs of maintaining a database of PDFs based in books. Those databases charge each university up to $1 million a year! Scholars are bypassing such exorbitant costs by simply housing journals online. Presses will not be far behind.

by Upstate NY on Tue Jun 16th, 2009 at 03:53:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not where I work!.  (warning, pdf)

:)

They are digging the gigantic hole for that thing right outside my window as I type.  (not pdf)

So, between that and having worked with rare books my whole life, you will have to forgive my steadfast optimism.  The fact is, the problem is not that books will be lost forever.  They will be technically more available to more people than ever before.  The real issue will become how to find out what is out there.  That is already the real problem with Google Books.  (FWIW, we are also working with Google Books. I can assure you our books are not being destroyed upon digitization.)

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Tue Jun 16th, 2009 at 04:20:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the copy on your link just further reinforced my point-of-view. It says U Chicago is the only American library to make the commitment to keep books on campus for the next 20 years. It also talks about the conventional wisdom which is anti-books.
by Upstate NY on Tue Jun 16th, 2009 at 06:35:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You stated as a matter of fact that libraries and books are disappearing, books are being warehoused at our major libraries, and that the future library will not be a home for books.  I've given you a link illustrating precisely the opposite.  Spin that new information however you like to make it conform to your chicken little view of the world, if you must, if you are absolutely incapable of accepting that you might have been a little precipitous in your reading of crystal balls.    

Meanwhile, I'm choosing to remain in reality.    

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 11:35:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, sorry to make you so defensive.

I didn't know that one library in Chicago--a library that touts itself as the only library in America committed to keeping books on campus, but even then only for 20 years, in the face of the anti-books prevailing wisdom (their words, not mine)--coulod save the world.

Meanwhile, all the librarians I've talked to see the writing on the while. Maybe that's why the New York Review of Books wrote an article on the matter. Maybe that's why libraries in American universities are right now up at arms with the budget cuts.

by Upstate NY on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 07:36:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have found some great stuff through Google books, whole texts of books that have been really important for my research, accessible from my desktop at home, saving me 80 miles of driving, gas and parking costs.  But that doesn't mean that there are things that have been missed because they were miscataloged (or that I couldnt' come up with the relevant search terms).

I frankly wish Google books would start scanning old periodicals, newspapers, broadsides, posters, maps, etc.

Of course, I would rather look at the real thing, but seeing it online helps to know what is worth really looking at.

I understand that there is a real problem concerning Google having a monopoly on internet access to certain books, but overall I think what they are doing is a good thing, especially with texts that are in the public domain.

I see this issue tied to the problems faced by the print media in general in the digital/internet "age."  There is probably one great solution out there just waiting to be found.

by jjellin on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 01:18:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Google is a private company. While I find their legal takeover of other's copyrights highly questionable, I can't blame them for building a database.

The problem is that they'll have no competition.

There's also a concern as you note with the discarding of paratexts when a corporate entity decides to digitize books, whether we're talking about dust jackets, watermarks, variant paper stocks, marginalia, end-papers, broadsides, etc.

Those huge warehouses that will become obsolete will also house many unknown rare and precious books that are still in general stacks. You can go into any old library and putz around the old dusty shelves, and you'll find unbelievably rare books.

by Upstate NY on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 01:30:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you mean the books can't be quickly retrieved from the warehouse?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 11:42:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Upstate NY:
Increasingly, books are being stored elsewhere.
Meaning, off-site, so you can no longer browse the aisles and retrieve the book yourself?

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 11:48:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Many large research libraries now have off-site warehouses.  The books can be retrieved from there, but it can sometimes take several days for that, like ILL.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 11:50:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I know. Trinity here has had off-site "stacks" for more than twenty years. Retrieval was generally overnight. I don't see the problem.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 11:58:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a zero sum game. If there's no competitor for the database, the database can set its price to the moon. Library budgets being what they are, (i.e. quite limited, as university libraries were the first units to suffer severe cuts in the current economy) there is grave concern that library book buying/book publishing will be severely damaged, even ended, by monopolistic databases. Some of these already charge over a million a year per school. Budgets of libraries are being cut by 15-20%. Meanwhile, database budgets are rising by 20%. Jstor, for instance, has escalated way out of proportion to any real increase in their operating expenses. One database, Elsevier, went from $1.5 to $2 million from this year to next year.

The vision of the library of the future comes from the sciences, pushed by the idea that technical info will become more accessible online. A job ad for head librarian at Stanford recently read:

The librarian will head "a library, but in the most advanced definition of that term, and ultimately, as the literatures of the disciplines move to digital form, it is envisioned as a bookless facility."

At all of the New York state centers of research, there are plans afoot to either tear down current libraries (schools need the space that books occupy) or else use the old space for academic computing services. Now, what would be the point in storing books for retrieval IF the university is already paying Google millions for their digital book service? That makes no sense.

So, why be concerned by this? Well, in this atmosphere of budget cuts, the libraries are top targets. Why? Because they are a source of large, relatively accessible cuts that can be made on short notice (i.e. hack a database, save a million). That problem is worsened because many expensive databases are used mainly by the sciences, and those are looking at substantial inflationary increases. Put two and two together: budget cuts, price increases, something is going to give. In the political reality of modern universities, the sciences receive first priority.

About these science inspired bookless facilities: they've become more learning centers (i.e. computer & literacy skill centers) than research centers. I'm all for learning and literacy, of course, but in terms of allocated space, it will come at the expense of research.

I'm not bemoaning the death of book culture here as much as I am concerned with database monopolies. Book culture is a concern in that budgets for book buying and journal subscriptions are being slashed (and that's been expected for several years now). So, basically, the media (university books and journal articles) which sustain the conversations in many disciplines are disappearing. This has been the recent reality:

  1. University libraries have significantly reduced the number of monographs they purchase.  These reductions especially impact the humanities where much very important research is published first and only in book form.

  2. University presses, under constraint by the financial officers of university administrations to "break even," have significantly reduced the number of monographs they publish.

  3. I've run into difficulties accessing a journal online if my school has not subscribed to that journal directly through the database. Print copies are out of the question.

But again, this is mere carping about the dying of book culture. More concerning for me is control of digitization.

For instance, the model for online retrieval comes from the sciences. This literally means that books are now available only page by page, since that has become the price model (per page pricing). Many of those in the Humanities have been objecting to the new models because it doesn't fit our research methods.

In fact, many scholars have gone beyond the problem and already suggested ways in which Humanists can intervene in the debate.

Here's a lengthy quote from Johanna Drucker on possible modes of intervention for scholars (note, she isn't protesting the loss of books, but rather how books will be digitized, saved, searched, in competition with Google): "The task of modeling an environment for scholarship (not just individual projects, but an environment, with a suite of tools for access, use, and research activity) is not a responsibility that can be offloaded onto libraries or technical staffs. I cannot say this strongly or clearly enough: The design of digital tools for scholarship is an intellectual responsibility, not a technical task. After all, what will such "research portals" do? What kinds of work will they be designed to support? Editing? Annotation? Aggregation of leaves of manuscripts scattered at remote institutions? Collaborative writing? Close readings? Data mining? Information display? Multimedia writing? Networked conversation? Publishing? Those are enormous questions, to which no scholar would have the same set of answers as another. No scholar would have the same requirements. But creating boutique, custom solutions on a project-by-project basis is not practical, and the labor involved is too costly. The scope of the task ahead is nothing short of modeling scholarly activity anew in digital media. To answer that challenge, humanists have to do more than wave their hands at the technical professionals."

"Scholars in the humanities have been particularly remiss in taking seriously the role they need to play in this project. For years when I was at the University of Virginia, where the library took the lead on digital-humanities projects, serving as home, sponsor, mentor, and friend to the many research institutes that helped break new ground and establish now-standard practices, faculty members involved in those activities came up repeatedly against a wall of resistance from within their ranks. Humanities, arts, and social-science colleagues repeatedly dismissed digital projects as work for the library community. Most considered the creation of digital materials a technical matter of access, a thing "they" should do and take care of for "us." That attitude contains a grotesque misunderstanding of the basic problem: Unless we scholars are involved in designing the working environments of our digital future, we will find ourselves in a future that doesn't work, without the methods and materials essential to our undertakings. Returning to the architecture analogy, you shouldn't build a new house without dialogue between architect and client. Would you let a contractor determine basic space allocation? Technical experts and library professionals are not mind readers. Design must emerge from the context of use."

I think she's way way too optimistic. The likelihood is that as with the naming of "learning" centers, the Humanities instructor will be charged with literacy concerns, not research, while the digital database serves the sciences in a presumably adequate fashion. This has been my experience anyway, and I have access to one of the top two libraries in New York state, a state that spends more money on education per capita than any other US state. At my previous school, ranked in the top 20, my current library was the envy of my colleagues.

by Upstate NY on Wed Jun 17th, 2009 at 08:36:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think an important part of the answer to control of the digital material is Open Access publishing.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 07:16:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed, I mentioned this in one of my first posts in this thread.

I am on an editorial board of one such journal already. The model should have been adopted before libraries started to get into this mess. The problem remains for print books, however. Journals can certainly go the electronic route.

by Upstate NY on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 10:36:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thought it was strange that you omitted it...

Read this thread in installments and missed the connection to that post. Sorry about that.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 10:50:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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