Sunday, January 16, 2005

"Access by Google," Comment on Library Journal - Almost insightful

Library Journal's Editorial for this month attempts to address the "Google" phenomenon. But clearly the editor, Francine Fialkoff, misses the point. She frets about copyright issues, damage to print materials, and sees sales of books as a major concern for Google's project.

The point she misses is that while Amazon's Search Inside the Book feature has resulted in increased sales for Amazon, the analogy for libraries is that the Google service will likely result in patrons coming to the library to read the books that aren't readily available in the marketplace! It is my firm belief that a patron that finds Blackstone on Google, won't download the full text to his/her computer or handheld and read it in electronic format; rather, they will most likely either print it out or go the library and check it out. Printing the classic work will take reams of paper, and purchasing it will cost more than most consumers want to pay for an academic read.

I think that the time is ripe for libraries to begin thinking about expanding reading rooms. Particularly in their rare book rooms!

17 comments:

Charleston School of Law Library said...

Richard: Interesting page, I would suggest that in academic research that often faculty are not reading the entire book, but looking more narrowly at a chapter and would gladly print that material out. Also, how about features in Questia and Ebrary that allow the researcher to mark text from the digital material and save it in a personal folder.

Richard Leiter said...

Charleston Law School: Two points. With respect to how scholars do research. Very true. This raises an interesting issue, however. If someone is interested in the work of an important historical figure, should they have to read the person's work? For example, if you are researching natural law and you discover Burlamaqui's Principles of Natural Law, shouldn't a scholar be expected to have read the work in order to quote or to cite it? It turns out that Burlamqui was Vattel's teacher and that even Blackstone likely heard some of his lectures. An important guy, but virtually unknown today. (This work was a principle text book in American law schools in the 18th and 19th centuries.) I think that its entirely possible to find great stuff simply searching around and reading a few pages, but I think that its intellectually dishonest. But the real problem that I have with it is that without reading all of Burlamaqui - particularly the last few chapters; you can't really understand where he's coming from.

The other point you raise, too, about software that allows one to mark up electronic text, is interesting. There's no doubt that there is a use for this technology. But I wonder if ther "paperless office" will ever become a reality. I love and use computers constantly, yet I still print out things that I really need and read books and articles in hard copy so I can mark them up. I also prefer to write with the hard copy of materials I'm citing to laying around. Its simply easier, quicker and more convenient for me to use.

Time will tell, but I think that print materials are simply not going to go away. We live in a physical world. That's why we prefer going to a museum over viewing art online, or going to see some movies in the theatre over veiwing DVD's or videotapes at home.

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