Google and the Messiness of the Book

Paul Duguid has written an intriguing assessment of Google Books and their treatment of Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. The choice of Shandy is especially interesting because it is a work of fiction that also experiments with the form of the bookthe blank page, the black page, Greek text, footnotes, etc. and so acts as a good test of Google’s ability to accurately capture both form and content. Duguid’s conclusions speak to the challenges that face Google or anyone else who wants to undertake a mass conversion from one media to another:

…it may be Google’s technicians, and not librarians, who are the great romanticisers of the book. Google Books takes books as a storehouse of wisdom to be opened up with new tools. They fail to see what librarians know: books can be obtuse, obdurate, even obnoxious things. As a group, they don’t submit equally to a standard shelf, a standard scanner, or a standard ontology. Nor are their constraints overcome by scraping the text and developing search algorithms.

Inheritance and loss? A brief survey of Google Books, by Paul Duguid.

(via O’Reilly Radar)