Updating the Book Discovery Projects
One big piece of bad news (but not wholly bad). A handful of items along the way. And, to finish off, a blogging controversy that might belong in My Back Pages rather than here. If nothing else, this piece brings us up to date since the January 2008 Discovering Books: An OCA/GBS Retrospective (C&I 8:1).
On May 23, 2008, Microsoft announced, “We are ending the Live Search Books and Live Search Academic projects and…both sites will be taken down next week. Books and scholarly publications will continue to be integrated into our Search results, but not through separate indexes.” That’s in the first paragraph of “Book search winding down” at the Live search blog (blogs.msdn.com/livesearch/). The kicker comes in the next paragraph:
This also means that we are winding down our digitization initiatives, including our library scanning and our in-copyright book programs. We recognize that this decision comes as disappointing news to our partners, the publishing and academic communities, and Live Search users.
The post says Microsoft digitized 750,000 books and indexed 80 million journal articles.
Based on our experience, we foresee that the best way for a search engine to make book content available will be by crawling content repositories created by book publishers and libraries. With our investments, the technology to create these repositories is now available at lower costs for those with the commercial interest or public mandate to digitize book content.
The “not wholly bad” part—particularly for those of us who found the Live Search Books platform more congenial than Google Book Search?
We intend to provide publishers with digital copies of their scanned books. We are also removing our contractual restrictions placed on the digitized library content and making the scanning equipment available to our digitization partners and libraries to continue digitization programs. We hope that our investments will help increase the discoverability of all the valuable content that resides in the world of books and scholarly publications. (Emphasis added.)
Mike Buschman, who was involved with these projects for almost two years, blogged about them on May 26, 2008 and June 7, 2008 at Mike Buschman’s blog (mikebuschman.spaces.live.com/Blog/). He was “dumb-founded at the decision” and cited other comments noting that Google isn’t making any money from Google Book Search either, but manages to keep it going. He also notes Brewster Kahle’s comment regarding more than 300,000 public domain books that Microsoft had paid to scan—all of which are available at the Internet Archive—and thanked Microsoft for letting IA and other partners keep the equipment.
As reported in the second post, Brewster Kahle took an opportunity to take an indirect shot at some other book-scanning project. He called the announcement “a wakeup call” and said “The idea of a couple of corporations owning the history of intellectual discourse is a bad idea. That should be the job of libraries and publishers, not one corporation.” The concept that scanning books still held in and owned by libraries means the scanning firms “own the history of intellectual discourse” is misleading discourse.
Buschman says “digitizing this vast store of knowledge and making them freely and publicly accessible is rightly part of the libraries' mission”—which may be true, but leaves out a crucial item, namely money, not just the tens of millions required for scanning but ongoing money required for robust access to the scanned materials. Some commenters have offered an interesting handwave, saying grant money is readily available for these projects. If that’s true, then why isn’t the Open Content Alliance rolling in dough and making a fully-populated online system that works better than it does?
As an odd sidelight, Buschman’s second post quotes a May 29, 2008 item at eWeek.com including this statement: “Google was asked by eWEEK when it could expect to see some Book Search results…” Say what? Google Book Search was returning results in October 2006; it was returning much larger results in June 2007 and again in December 2007.
At least one reasonably informed reaction to this shutdown was that it would feed Google’s monopoly. That shouldn’t be the case, if the Open Content Alliance makes progress—but it’s a natural conclusion.
The Chronicle of Higher Education ran “Microsoft’s book-search project has a surprise ending” in its May 29, 2008 issue. The article, by Andrea L. Foster, gives the facts, notes that “Microsoft was not as ambitious as Google” in its aims, and quotes Anne Kenney (Cornell) as saying “It would have meant an awful lot of additional investment in this area for Microsoft to be a real competitor.”
Cornell was working with both Microsoft and Google, as the article notes, partly because Google would digitize Cornell’s in-copyright agricultural-life-sciences collection and non-English materials. (Microsoft was only scanning English-language public domain materials.) Both Kenney and Michigan’s Paul Courant noted that competition was a good thing.
Paul Courant commented at his own blog, Au Courant, on May 31, 2008 (paulcourant.net/):
I want to emphasize…that I completely agree with Brewster Kahle that it would be a very bad thing if a single corporation were in control of the cultural record. Indeed, it would be bad if, as is the case with much of audio and video, the control were divided up amongst several corporations. Nonprofit organizations, emphatically including research libraries, are the natural stewards of information that will be of value to society for the indefinite future, precisely because we are driven by a mission of preservation and access, rather than by profit. Good thing, then, that the University of Michigan and other universities whose collections are being digitized by Google continue to hold the original copies of their print works, and also receive and preserve copies of the image files and associated text files that are produced by Google’s nondestructive scanning of these works.
I will miss Microsoft, and I hope that others will take its place—again, the more the merrier. In the meantime, the University of Michigan Library now has well over a million digitized books in its catalogue, with the number growing by thousands every day. Visit us online at www.lib.umich.edu. Our catalog will allow search of all of the digitized works, and full view of those that are in the public domain.
Dan Cohen (director of George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media) discussed the situation in a May 29, 2008 post at Dan Cohen (www.dancohen.org):
This leaves Microsoft’s partner… the Internet Archive, somewhat in the lurch, although Microsoft has done the right thing and removed the contractual restrictions on the books they digitized so they may become part of IA’s fully open collection (as part of the broader Open Content Alliance), which now has about 400,000 volumes. Also still on the playing field is the Universal Digital Library (a/k/a the Million Books Project), which has 1.5 million volumes.
And then there’s Google and its Book Search program. For those keeping score at home, my sources tell me that Google, which coyly likes to say it has digitized “over a million books” so far, has actually finished scanning five million. It will be hard for non-profits like IA to catch up with Google without some game-changing funding or major new partnerships.
Foundations like the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation have generously made substantial (million-dollar) grants to add to the digital public domain. But with the cost of digitizing 10 million pre-1923 books at around $300 million, where might this scale of funds and new partners come from? To whom can the Open Content Alliance turn to replace Microsoft?
Frankly, I’ve never understood why institutions such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton haven’t made a substantial commitment to a project like OCA. Each of these universities has seen its endowment grow into the tens of billions in the last decade, and each has the means and (upon reflection) the motive to do a mass book digitization project of Google’s scale. $300 million sounds like a lot, but it’s less than 1% of Harvard’s endowment and my guess is that the amount is considerably less than all three universities are spending to build and fund laboratories for cutting-edge sciences like genomics. And a 10 million public-domain book digitization project is just the kind of outrageously grand project HYP should be doing, especially if they value the humanities as much as the sciences….
In one stroke HYP could create enormous good will with a moon-shot program to rival Google’s: free books for the world… And beyond access, the project could enable new forms of scholarship through computational access to a massive corpora of full texts…. [Several worthwhile paragraphs omitted.]
Is this likely to happen? Of course not. HYP and other wealthy institutions are being asked to spend their prodigious endowments on many other things, and are reluctant to up their spending rate at all. But I believe a HYP or HYP-like solution is much more likely than public funding for this kind of project, as the Human Genome Project received.
You might find the rest of the post interesting reading. Could it happen? And beyond the $300 million for scanning, what would it cost to maintain the digital collections in robust, rapidly accessible, high quality form? I think the idea’s wonderful; I know that long-term effective digital access is not “free,” even if disk space is supposedly cheaper than dirt.
The bad news first: Looking at OCA’s website, I see little evidence of any change since October 2007. That’s the most recent “News” item. The “Next Steps” tab brings up a 2006 work agenda. The OCA collection at Internet Archive amounts to less than 21,000 items (the Microsoft collection, more than 300,000 items, is separate). At least that’s growing, if slowly. The website gives the feeling of not being maintained.
Two short items and one longer item may be worth noting:
• Roy Tennant contributed “Mobilizing collections: from storehouse to scanning factory” to hangingtogether.org on January 2, 2008 (hangingtogether.org/). The post describes a visit to UC’s Northern Regional Library Facility (NLRF), a five-million-volume storage facility serving five Northern California UC campuses—and it includes notes on “the scanning operation of the Open Content Alliance.” There’s also a Google scanning operation at UC—but, of course, “staff were not at liberty to show or tell” them about that one. (As of this writing, the University of California Libraries account for more than 165,000 items at the Internet Archives, or a little more than 70% of the total from American libraries.)
• Open access news for April 17, 2008 notes a page at the California Digital Library site on UC’s mass digitization projects; you’ll find it at www.cdlib.org/inside/projects/massdig/. The page includes frequently asked questions, the actual contracts with Google, Internet Archive and Microsoft, and various other items. It’s an interesting page.
• “The race to the shelf continues” appeared in Searcher 16:1 (January 2008) and it’s freely available online (www.infotoday.com/searcher/ jan08/Ashmore_Grogg.shtml). At more than four pages of small print, it’s a long, interesting treatment that also looks at Amazon’s scanning projects. The article briefly mentions Microsoft (then still active), which makes some of the coverage of OCA a little strange. To wit, Brewster Kahle said more than 200,000 books had been scanned by October 2007 and the article says OCA is adding “about 12,000 books a month to its collection.” But if you remove Microsoft’s 300,000 books, there just isn’t much left—as noted earlier, less than 21,000 carry the “Open Content Alliance” label.
Google continues to add partners and scan books. A few brief items from the last half year:
• A lengthy piece, “Google Book Search: The good, the bad, & the ugly,” appears in the January 1, 2008 Campus Technology (www.campus-technology.com). Dian Schaffhauser calls the project “simultaneously visionary and crude.” There’s a good description of what you see at GBS—but it’s not quite right, as it conflates the limited view you get when Google has an agreement with a publisher and the snippet view you get in other cases (and, indeed, erroneously calls page views “snippets”). There’s a description of UC’s arrangement, comments on GBS from a grad student (who does understand that snippets aren’t pages), what seems to be an awful lot of copy from or about Kirtas as to what’s wrong with Google and various comments on storage and compression. It’s an odd piece, relying as it does on comments on how things could work in the absence of information from Google on how things do work. You’ll find it interesting, but you won’t really learn much new about GBS.
• Charles Edward Smith wrote “A few thoughts on the Google Books Library Project” in EDUCAUSE Quarterly 31:1 (January-March 2008). He’s a computer systems administrator—and somehow believes that digitizing preserves the information in books, which is almost certainly not the case with Google’s fast-and-sloppy scanning. The key quote: “Only by transforming knowledge contained in print to new and easily accessible digital formats can we guarantee its survival.” Really? Yes, GBS should make the existence of books more widely accessible—make books more findable—but I see nothing to suggest that it makes the contents of the books more permanent. (But then, Smith also says “The only way to really learn how to use a major research library is on your own, first hesitantly, and then through endless questions to the staff.” Really?) Smith also asserts that nobody will notice if books disappear once the contents have been “transferred.”
• John Wilkin pokes at openness in “Did I say ‘theoretical’? Openness and Google Books digitization,” posted April 25, 2008 on John Wilkin’s blog (scholarlypublishing.org/jpwilkin/). Wilkin is at the University of Michigan and has been closely involved in Michigan’s Google partnership and the library’s own scanning initiatives. He was surprised to be quoted as saying that Brewster Kahle’s position regarding the openness of Google’s public domain books was “theoretical,” since he thinks he said “polemical.” He looks at the “practical part of openness”—what most people want and what’s possible through Michigan’s online services. Michigan’s Making of America project and its Google-scanned public domain material offer free viewing, searching and printing—and for MOA, even OCR downloading. And, by the way, for Google public domain material Michigan also does what Open Content Alliance’s FAQ seems to require for openness: You can download the PDF version. In a comment, Kahle objects to Wilkin calling Michigan’s efforts “open,” somehow bringing open source and CC licenses into the discussion and using the word “crippled” to describe downloaded versions (apparently those that are just PDF images and don’t include full test). Wilkin calls this “precisely the sort of rhetoric that’s muddying the waters,” says there’s a continuum of access and openness, notes that Michigan does work with OCA (on its own scanning)—oh, and by the way, notes that OCA itself allows contributors to restrict use (as Microsoft did until recently).
• Then there’s the downloadable file of U.S. book copyright renewals. Non-digital records for pre-1978 renewals of books published between 1923 and 1963 were scanned by Carnegie Mellon and cleaned up by Project Gutenberg and the Distributed Proofreaders project. Google managed to combine that with the online records from 1978 on and create a single XML file, downloadable at dl.google.com/rights/books/renewals/google-renewals-20080516.zip. As Jacob Kramer-Duffield notes in a June 25, 2008 post at Digital natives (blogs. law.harvard.edu/digitalnatives/):
This is, whatever your other feelings are about Google Book Search more generally, a wonderful advance in public accessibility of information. The list of what books are in the public domain can and will be used not just by Google Book Search in its ongoing (and arguably proprietary) book-scanning project, but also by other efforts like Brewster Kahle’s Open Content Alliance. Google comes in for a lot of criticism, but it’s worth acknowledging those times when they follow through on their stated goal of “organizing the world’s information,” and this is one of them.
Then there’s Open Library or OpenLibrary (usage is inconsistent). Until recently, I thought OpenLibrary would be the user interface for OCA books—and maybe it is. But it’s also something different and something more, with a goal of “one web page for every book ever published.” It’s at openlibrary.org and you can explore the site yourself.
For now, I’m just looking at the interface—which appears to be used both in OpenLibrary (for 230,000 texts, so far) and from Internet Archive (for a much larger collection). The flipbook two-page view—the only one you get directly from OpenLibrary—is interesting but not always usable, since it doesn’t have a zoom function and presents book pages in unreadably small type (the browser’s own size modification facilities may help, as may Windows’ accessibility functions). Using “Modesto” as a search, neither of the first two fully viewable results was readable. IA’s version of the flip interface seems to use more of the screen, resulting in more readable pages.
At this point, I have to say that although Google’s scans are supposedly inferior, the interface makes the books much more readable—with built-in scaling tools and a choice of one-page or two-page interface. This seems a shame. You’d expect that OCA would find a way to make its superior scans more readable.
I’d love to do comparisons between GBS and Live Search Books—but that’s no longer possible. So let’s look at some of the searches done in previous reports.
Searches include Tom Peters’ favorites, “Phrenology” and “Spontaneous combustion,” and three Stephen Leary used: “next attack,” “homeland security” and “sapajous.” We’ll look at Google Book Search, Open Library, Internet Archive texts, Universal Library at ulib.org—and, just for fun, two others: Mirlyn at the University of Michigan and Live Search (which should, presumably, still index books from Live Search Books). All searches done on August 2, 2008, with earlier comparisons as noted.
When full-view items are available, the viewer works very well, with readable images—and, in at least some cases I tried, you can switch to a text view that shows OCR output, for better or worse. There are also full PDF downloads. I am seeing sponsored links (in some cases) at the bottom of the book viewer, so there is apparently some revenue associated with Google Book Search.
• Phrenology: 1,700, including 1,644 full view—but the list stops at 200. These are lower numbers than on December 7, 2007, when I found 2,080, including 2,372 full view (well, at least the numbers now make more sense)—and Google was willing to show 211. (When Tom Peters tried this in late 2006, he got 2,618—but 1,603 full view, of which 63 were actually viewable.) Where did the other 728 claimed books and 11 viewable books go?
• Spontaneous combustion: 2,170, including 1,163 full view. The list stops at 366 “of 566.” These are increases over December 2007, when I found 1,890 total, 1,007 full view, and 385 viewable. So the viewable number has declined slightly. In late 2006, Peters got 1,041 total, including 699 full view (489 actually viewable).
• Next attack: 1,194, including 738 full view (the list ends at 332 “of 532”). In December 2007, those numbers were 1,038, 705, and 344 respectively. In June 2007, they were 732 and 250 viewable.
• Homeland security: 3,000, including 614 full view (the list ends at 187 “of 287”). December 2007: 3,250 in all, 709 full view and 164 viewable. So the gross results have declined—but more books are actually viewable.
• Sapajous: 725 total, 667 full view, 353 “of 553: viewable. (The first book shows an exception to Google’s normal bitonal scanning—there’s a full-color plate on p. x.) December 2007: 688 in all, 650 full view, 366 viewable—slight decreases in each case. June 2007: 645, of which 416 were viewable.
The viewer is handsome, but in some of my tests only yielded readable results by zooming in at least three levels in Firefox or using Vista’s accessibility magnifier. (In others, where the original book is smaller, the default view is crisp and, because it’s color, more “booklike” than Google Book Search.) I didn’t see any PDF download capability, “find in a library” option or plain-text option. But the reader is pretty. (Actually, buy and borrow links are sometimes available—but on the general single-book interface, not the book reader—and seemingly not when they’re scanned books. Download is available, but only on the book description page.) Depending on where in the interface you click “Read online” for a given title, you may get either Open Library’s direct two-page viewer or the Internet Archive’s version, which yields larger and more readable pages.
This really is a beta system: To get back to a search that is not limited to scanned books after you’ve limited a search to scanned books, you have to click on the small-type “Open Library” tag to go back to the home page. On the other hand, it’s a considerable improvement over the beta site as of December 2007.
• Phrenology: 296, including 26 scanned books—but only 18 using “search full text” option. In December 2007, there were 85, including three scanned books.
• Spontaneous combustion: 32, including one scanned book. (As compared to 20 total and one scanned book in December 2007). But this time, “search full text” yields 19 books—so the general search interface is, in fact, an inferior way to discover the full-text books.
• Next attack: Eight, including no scanned or full-text-available books.
• Homeland security: 612, including no scanned or full-text-available books (even though more than 100 are government documents and should be in the public domain).
• Sapajous: No result.
The search result page and the single-book overview are both somewhat annoying because they keep changing the pages shown as thumbnail or small images, which doesn’t add real information but has the distracting effect of animated GIFs in the interface. IA’s single-item interface (with metadata and all) does yield several different downloads, including PDF, bitonal PDF, TXT or “full text” and a flip book two-page viewer that’s similar to the one at Open Library, but with considerably larger pages that yield much better readability at the expense of a slightly cramped control section. Because you can’t go directly from the results list to the viewer, it’s clear that you can download—but “find in a library” doesn’t appear to be available.
As far as I can tell, all texts are viewable. As with Open Library, the individual results aren’t numbered.
• Phrenology: 46—a considerable improvement from the 25 in December 2007.
• Spontaneous combustion: One book. For some reason, one of the two available in December 2007 has disappeared. (It spontaneously combusted?)
• Next attack: Eight books. (The same eight as at Open Library? Probably.)
• Homeland security: Three items—all of them downloadable as PDF but not viewable in the flip book.
• Sapajous: No result.
This still appears to be only a title search. A portion of the “million book” UDL collection is in the Internet Archive, but most is not. There is a viewing system, but I could never actually view anything with it. The most recent stats are from November 24, 2007.
• Phrenology: Five, of which three show page counts other than 0—as compared to ten with four 0-page results in December 2007.
• Spontaneous combustion: No matches for the phrase, one 0-page item for the two words. Same as in December 2007.
• Next attack: No result as phrase or as words.
• Homeland security: One 155 item (supposedly a book with that title, by George W. Bush, from China), not actually viewable.
• Sapajous: No result.
This is a library catalog, so you’d expect very different results. It does, however, link to the MBooks viewer, which is similar to Google’s viewer but with somewhat more precise zoom options and no two-page option. It does offer the choice of viewing as image or text (but they seem to have cleaned up text formatting as compared to Google, for the first, Google-scanned book). You can download as PDF—but only 10 pages at a time.
• Phrenology: 208 results, including 41 MBooks Online (full text).
• Spontaneous combustion: 17 results, including one Mbooks Online book—but it’s not fully viewable.
• Next attack: Three results including no Mbooks Online items.
• Homeland security: 1,453 items—including four MDP results, two of them MBooks Online, one full text (a recent government document)
• Sapajous: No result.
I can see no plausible way to extract full-text books from Live Search results—and, as with other web search engines, the results for many searches are unrealistically large. So, for example, “Phrenology” yields 254,000 results—of which only the first 1,000 are available. I accidentally encountered a full-text book—but it’s from Michigan’s Making of America project and shows up in that project’s excellent and different page viewer.
I didn’t do the other searches. If the books scanned by Microsoft are included in Live Search, they’re effectively lost in the bulk of other results.
In a word, no—but let’s spend a few words on it.
Steven Cohen posted “How Google used librarians…and got away with it” on June 29, 2008 at Library stuff (www.librarystuff.net)—which, like Google, has ads but costs nothing to the end-user. You can read the post and its 38 comments yourself. Cohen said “used,” not “suckered”—but he certainly doesn’t regard “used” as a neutral or favorable term. He’s making much of the fact that Google’s Librarian Newsletter and Library Central Blog were both quiet for a year and Google didn’t exhibit at ALA Annual 2008.
I’ll quote the first paragraph, as it sets the tone:
I know when I’m being used. It’s a learned trait after being used many times by friends, family, and colleagues.
Funny thing: I don’t believe I’ve ever been “used” by friends or family, but I suppose it depends on one’s definition. In any case, as Cohen tells the story, Google “decided to buddy up with ALA and the entire library community” so libraries would give them access to books. He’s disappointed with Google—and “in librarians who actually fell for this blatant marketing scheme.” He asks “Will [librarians] fight back?” I’m not sure what we/you are supposed to “fight back” against. Here’s more, and it says a lot about Cohen, his attitudes toward books and libraries:
There is no doubt in my mind that the entire library community was used. ALA was used. Those academic institutions that signed up were used. And those librarians that played a part in the PR stunt were used. I saw this coming (and I’m not the only one)
So, Google will continue to use librarians, scan their books, profit from it, and then leave us in the information dust to rot like an old microfilm machine.
I’ve considered Cohen a friend, but I resent and reject his direct attack (since I’m one of those who “played a part in the PR stunt” by writing a piece for Google’s newsletter). The idea that, by making library books more discoverable, Google will “leave us in the information dust to rot like an old microfilm machine” is beyond my understanding.
The comments are interesting. Some old axes (at least one having nothing to do with Google) are ground, a fair number of people disagree, a few agree, a couple people bring up the in-copyright suits (naturally asserting that there is no legal issue, presumably why the suits haven’t been settled in 2+ years), one person makes the odd assertion that nobody will use Google Book Search unless librarians encourage it (really?), and one simply asserts that Google will start delivering all books. The only arguments I saw for GBS damaging libraries were based on the assumption that this would happen. (At least one other post backed Cohen’s assertion.)
Meredith Farkas “just [didn’t] get it” in “Love for sale” on July 10, 2008 at Information wants to be free (Meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/). She doesn’t see anything nefarious in the blog going away. She always recognized that Google’s a company. And here’s how she sees Google’s “using” research libraries:
So, there are all these libraries with awesome collections that aren’t being digitized. Google comes in and says “hey, we’ll digitize your books for free and let you have the digital copies for your students.” Google was not doing this for the good of those libraries; they were doing it for the good of Google. But clearly the Universities also saw how this project was in their best interests or their lawyers wouldn’t have signed off on it. These Universities now have tons of their books in digital format that students, faculty and staff can enjoy from anywhere. University of Michigan makes them available in their catalog. It’s awesome. Maybe I’m naive, but none of this really gets me up in arms.
Farkas has distance learners studying military history. She’s “insanely grateful” to Google because so many pre-1923 books are now available online. It’s an interesting post, as are the comments (although they cover a narrower range than on Cohen’s post).
Laura “Rikhei” Harris offered “My take on Google Librarian Central’s year of silence” on July 10, 2008 at Llyfrgellydd (llyfrgellydd.info), looking at the blog and the newsletter and noting how little of either had anything to do with the Google Library Project.
The conclusion I have drawn from the year of silence is that Google no longer finds a relationship with librarians to be beneficial. This doesn’t make me feel used, or abandoned - but it does make me feel a little bit disappointed. I still think that there are still unexplored ways for librarians and Google to “work together to help people find useful, relevant information.”
One commenter notes that Google’s still working with many libraries (and librarians). About the same time Google also restarted the newsletter —and noted that they’d said they were taking a break.
The Chronicle of Higher Education had a brief “wired campus” item notable mostly for the comments. You should be able to find it online.
Number of Google Library partners who agreed they were “used”: Zero. And, sigh, unlike Microsoft, number of Google book-related services that were abruptly turned off: Zero, unless you count the blog as a service.
There’s nothing here to see. I should apologize for spending 900 words when one would do.
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