Friday, March 25, 2005
on Thursday March 24, @09:15AMfrom the like-powells-only-virtual dept.
theodp writes "Amazon had a dream. To bring the world a modern-day Library of Alexandria. Apparently they had a second dream. To own the patents on it. Interestingly, fears of lost cookbook and reference text sales voiced by the Author's Guild are echoed in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's patent application for the Suppression of features in digital images of content and a9.com CEO Udi Manber's follow up Access to electronic images of text based on user ownership of corresponding physical text, which discuss how one might block content from viewers who have no proof-of-purchase for a book on file with booksellers."
Therein lies a problem. Books are an ancient and proven medium. Their physical form inspires passion. But their very physicality makes books inaccessible to the multi-terabyte databases of modern Alexandrian projects. Books take time to transport. Their text vanishes and their pages yellow in a rash of foxing. Most important, it's still shockingly difficult to find information buried in books. Even as the Internet has revived hope of a universal library and Google seems to promise an answer to every query, books have remained a dark region in the universe of information. We want books to be as accessible and searchable as the Web. On the other hand, we still want them to be books.
This is sort of like complaining that the reason people are not flocking to online books is because hardware and software developers can't get off their duffs and develop services with the "look and feel" of books. To which I sound my frequent re-tort: If electronic books must have the look and feel of books in order to be successful, why not use books?
Further, why, in the first place are technologists so obsessed with competing with books as a technology? For example, contrary to Mr Wolf's observations above, books are frighteningly easy to transport compared to an online version.
Why can't they simply concede to reality and let books be books, and computers be computers?
23 Match, 2005
French President Jacques Chirac has promised to launch a new 'counter-offensive' against American cultural domination, enlisting the support of the British, German and Spanish governments in a multimillion euro bid to put the whole of European literature online.
The president was reacting last week to news that the American search-engine provider Google is to offer access to some 15 million books and documents currently housed in five of the most prestigious libraries in the English-speaking world. The realisation that the "Anglo-Saxons" were on the verge of a major breakthrough toward the dream of a universal library seriously rattled the cultural establishment in Paris, raising again the fear that French language and ideas will one day be reduced to a quaint regional peculiarity.
(The link was working at the time of posting the newsletter)
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Friday, March 11, 2005
In an excellent contribution to the debate on the future of libraries, Mark Y. Herring, dean of library services at Winthrop University, has written an excellent Point of View column for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Here are the concluding paragraphs:
"What kind of advertising will Google use to pay at least some of the costs of digitization? Academics tend to be particularly allergic to ads and other distractions on their computer screens. Google already relies on ads to cover its costs; presumably it will do the same for digitization. Would scholars tolerate having an ad about, say, erectile dysfunction pop up as they read Stanley Fish's Surprised by Sin, in order to have the work digitized?
"The digitized "library" would undeniably be for picking and choosing, not really for reading. Is that the attitude toward books that we want to encourage -- the view that sound bites are more important than substantive thought?
"Those are not necessarily insurmountable obstacles for Google. However, they are formidable.
"Besides, the portability, convenience, and even comfort of a book are integral components of our intellectual lives. No one has yet made a convincing case that it's time to give up on books -- or libraries."
Ahhhh. A man after my own heart....