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Google Books As "Train Wreck" For Scholars 160

Following up on our earlier discussion, here's more detail on Geoffrey Nunberg's argument that Google Books could prove detrimental to academics and other scholars. Recently Nunberg gave a talk at a conference claiming that the metadata in Google Books is riddled with errors and is classified in a scheme unfit for scholarly use. This blog post was fleshed out somewhat a few days later in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Quoting from the latter: "Start with publication dates. To take Google's word for it, 1899 was a literary annus mirabilis, which saw the publication of Raymond Chandler's Killer in the Rain, The Portable Dorothy Parker, [and] Stephen King's Christine... A search on 'internet' in books written before 1950 and turns up 527 hits. ... [Google blames some errors on the originating libraries.] ...the libraries can't be responsible for books mislabeled as Health and Fitness and Antiques and Collectibles, for the simple reason that those categories are drawn from the Book Industry Standards and Communications codes, which are used by the publishers to tell booksellers where to put books on the shelves. ... In short, Google has taken a group of the world's great research collections and returned them in the form of a suburban-mall bookstore." The head of metadata for Google Books, Jon Orwant, has responded in detail to Numberg's complaints in a comment on the original blog post — and says his team has already fixed the errors that Nunberg so helpfully pointed out.

Theory is gray, but the golden tree of life is green. -- Goethe