There couldn’t have been a greater contrast between David Weinberger’s keynote address and one immediately following by ALA President, Michael Gorman. While Weinberger paced up and down the platform, gesturing and occasionally shouting in his enthusiasm for a new order (or rather, a lack of order), in another room, Gorman sat quietly at the desk, spoke calmly and deliberately, without a PowerPoint presentation, espousing his opinion that the function of the library remains the same as it always has: the preservation of human knowledge. In addition, to assist users find the information they want and, given the failure of the US education system, to look after the health of users’ literary skills.
Speaking purely personally and not on behalf of the ALA, Gorman said, “Digitisation, particularly Google Print is a mistake. It is a waste of money to digitise material that nobody uses.” Further, he does not like at all the idea that readers should be able dip into works that can only be fully understood when read completely and sequentially.
Gorman also criticised Google’s name change from Google Print to Google Book Search. He believes that library catalogs are perfectly adequate for book searches and Amazon is fine for book purchases.
The remainder of the panel, two librarians and a Google spokesman, didn’t share these views. Elisabeth Niggemann, die Deutsche Bibliothek is keen to grow the body of digital content whether by corporations or through government funding as exemplified by The European Library project. (More on the European Library will appear in the January Information Today International Column).
Glenda Myers from the University of Witwatersrand was generous, even overflowing, in her praise of Google, saying that in her remote and poorer part of the world, Google was opening access to literature that could never have been provided before.
Google’s John Lewis Needham pointed out three factors about Google that change everything to do with search that none of the earlier speakers had mentioned: the price (free), the speed (fast) and the age of the Google user and Google developer communities (20 to 30).
Looks to me that the score at the end of round one is: New Order 3, Tradition 1.
ITI V.P., Content
The emphasis on quick search and the retrieval of nuggets of information defies the thoughtful process of the scholarly tradition and libraries' role in preserving and providing access to the human record of recorded knowledge, he said.
With the emphasis on quick search, Gorman said, "We've gone from cataloging to this sort of reduction of full texts . . . and a new age of amateurism [blogs] . . . and a belief in the great myth that everything is available on the Internet and everyone can find what they want."
This, he said, creates a "perilous" environment for libraries, and even challenges the basis of our civilization by reverting to a pre-Gutenberg situation in which "everything is written on water, it just flows away."
What about Google's digitization of library collections?
"It's a huge misallocation of resources," he said. "There are lots of ways to find books, and digitizing whole texts is a waste of time. The chances of a snippet from a book showing up on the first screen of search results [as far as most users go] is fairly low. It would be better if Google would help solve the scholarly communication issue or fund the digitization of archives."