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Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View from Europe Hardcover – November 1, 2006
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The president of the French national library has made himself the frontman in what he sees as a struggle to save cultural diversity. In the postmodern world, the battleground is the internet. Here, search engines determine what tomorrow's generations will click on, learn and think.”--Financial Times
Top Customer Reviews
Jeanneney comes across as a savvy politician who knows how to organize European-wide initiatives. He puts together a long list of all the national and European agencies he thinks should become involved in the project. The number of people from different agencies and industries and nations who need to be consulted contrasts sharply with Google's straight-forward plan to get started. I guess a lot depends on whether you think good ideas emerge more frequently from garages in Silicon Valley or meeting parlors in Brussels. Pragmatists like William James and John Dewey taught Americans to exercise healthy skepticism against affording "experts" in any field of knowledge an undue level of influence. The democratization of knowledge should generally decrease the cultural weight of the elite, who tend to privilege their social situation more than they let on. Is the danger of political elitism not as serious as that of economic plebeianism?Read more ›
M. Jeanneney has written this book as a tirade against Google publishing books on line. He seems to have three main arguments:
1. Google is digitizing books that are in English.
2. It is being done in America.
3. It's being done by a private company.
Taking the last point first, on Page 15 he says: 'A collection (of digitized books) whose permanence will be guaranteed over the long tern, as only public institutions can promise and ensure.' And on Page 62 he talks about what might happen if Google goes bankrupt. This is a good socialist view. But I find myself thinking that France capitulated to the Germans in World War II. Does he really think that the Germans would have left the collection in place if it contained the books that they had publicly burned not so long before? Does he think that the mainland Chinese would be good custodians of books written in Taiwan? Or that the Muslims who burned the Great Library of Alexandria would protect Jewish literature?
The book seems to make the assumption that thee are two alternatives, turn everything over to Google, or create a Government Agency to do everythign. This is not, however the situation. There are no standards of on line books digitization. Project Gutenberg does it one way, Google does it another, as does the University of Michigan and many others. There are (as of today) almost 50,000 entries in the Books-On-Line 'Card Catalog' of on-line publications.
Meanwhile, M. Jeanneney is forming committees, planning to set up a digital library, wanting to do a new search engine more suited for literature, and writing books. Meanwhile, others are skipping the committees and digitizing away.
Jean-Noel Jeanneney is president of the Bibliotheque nationale de France, professor at the Institut d'etudes politique de Paris, past executive director of Radio-France and Radio-France International, and has also worked for the government of President Francois Mitterrrand as secretary of state for foreign trade and secretary of state for communications. I tell you this, as it is important to know Mr. Jeanneney's background. Especially as this book concerns Google Books. Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge takes a European look at the efforts of Google to digitize the world's books. There are two points to this, right off the bat. First, this book was translated from French. According to the author, very few books are translated into English (the major exceptions are the "classics"). Second, this is a thought provoking book from a totally different viewpoint. I think that we take Google for granted but Jeanneney does not. He talks about how Google's efforts are primarily with English speaking countries, that important works from European countries will be overlooked, and that by providing the search, you will lose important context. All very valid arguments.
Many people will disagree with his position, especially since the digitization is currently underway (and because he is French), but this is an excellent book examining the thought processes of librarians. They really want to get their information out to more people, and Google Books is one such avenue. However, Jeanneney raises important questions and shows the cultural issues surrounding Google's efforts.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Jean-Noel Jeanneney is president of France's Bibliotque Nationale and viewed Google's announcement of its intention to digitize the holdings of several major research libraries as... Read morePublished on February 8, 2007 by Midwest Book Review