by Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
July 15, 2008 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on July 15, 2008.
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Robert Darnton's recent Google-article in The New York Review of Books may be read profitably, and with interest, by any librarian -- anywhere, and "digital" or other -- also by any lover of books or collector of same, and by any publisher, any writer, any reader... any Web developer or designer...
Also anyone French, wondering "how the Americans think", ought to read Darnton's piece -- likewise anyone in the US, wondering how the French or for that matter any of "the foreigners" are handling the latest iterations of digital information.
The article is available conveniently now online, as follows:
"The Library in the New Age"
By Robert Darnton
in, The New York Review of Books
Volume 55, Number 10 -- June 12, 2008
"Information is exploding so furiously around us and information technology is changing at such bewildering speed that we face a fundamental problem: How to orient ourselves in the new landscape? What, for example, will become of research libraries in the face of technological marvels such as Google?...
"How to make sense of it all? I have no answer to that problem, but I can suggest an approach to it: look at the history...
"Somewhere, around 4000 BC, humans learned to write...
"Now, I speak as a Google enthusiast. I believe Google Book Search really will make book learning accessible on a new, worldwide scale, despite the great digital divide that separates the poor from the computerized. It also will open up possibilities for research involving vast quantities of data, which could never be mastered without digitization...
"But their [various digital library projects, he lists several] success does not prove that Google Book Search, the largest undertaking of them all, will make research libraries obsolete. On the contrary, Google will make them more important than ever. To support this view, I would like to organize my argument around eight points... [For the precise text of Darnton's Eight Points, please see his article, URL/link below :-)]
"Thanks to Google, scholars are able to search, navigate, harvest, mine, deep link, and crawl (the terms vary along with the technology) through millions of Web sites and electronic texts...
"But don't think of [the research library] as a warehouse or a museum. While dispensing books, most research libraries operate as nerve centers for transmitting electronic impulses. They acquire data sets, maintain digital repositories, provide access to e-journals, and orchestrate information systems that reach deep into laboratories as well as studies...
"Therefore, I also say: long live Google, but don't count on it living long enough to replace that venerable building with the Corinthian columns..."
It is a fascinating piece, beautifully-balanced, intriguing, engagé as the French say. Robert Darnton's Eight Points may well supply the framework for both "digital library" and "library" development discussions, going forward -- in any event they are very deserving of meticulous study and debate by all involved.
And see also, for The Fray, a letter published in the current NYRB issue about one of the many interesting issues raised in the article, and Darnton's response --
"Google Without Pix"
By Marc Aronson, Reply by Robert Darnton
In response to "The Library in the New Age" (June 12, 2008)
in, The New York Review of Books
Volume 55, Number 12 -- July 17, 2008
To the Editors: (from Marc Aronson, Maplewood NJ)
"I read Robert Darnton's essay on the library of the
future... the copyright issues for Google Books are
compounded in works for younger readers because the books
Robert Darnton replies:
"I certainly agree that the loss of illustrations would rob children's books of their most vital quality. Moreover, the argument applies to books of all kinds and to all kinds of artwork -- maps, graphs, and any graphic material covered by a separate copyright.
"Instead of merely illustrating an argument in a book, the artwork is often part of the argument -- the most important part in many cases, as William Ivins (Prints and Visual Communication) and Edward Tufte (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information) have demonstrated..."
Darnton is not only a well-known US historian of France, a specialist in books and print and texts and cats and many other arcane subjects, he also now is Director of Harvard's library --
-- and so he is in a good position to speak, if not for the entire US academic and library establishment, at least about some of its worries and insecurities in the face of digital information's onslaught. Particularly regarding Google, the Promise and the Problem...
As to that last, Darnton in this NYRB piece is neither "pro" nor "con". Instead and wisely he offers an acute sensitivity to the user's perspective(s): qua researcher and writer and teacher and librarian himself he wonders, for instance, inter much alia,
"Google employs hundreds, perhaps thousands, of engineers but, as far as I know, not a single bibliographer. Its innocence of any visible concern for bibliography is particularly regrettable in that most texts... were unstable throughout most of the history of printing. No single copy of an eighteenth-century best-seller will do justice to the endless variety of editions...
"Even if the digitized image on the computer screen is accurate, it will fail to capture crucial aspects of a book. For example, size... Books also give off special smells... When I read an old book, I hold its pages up to the light and often find among the fibers of the paper little circles made by drops from the hand of the vatman as he made the sheet -- or bits of shirts and petticoats that failed to be ground up adequately during the preparation of the pulp...
For anyone unfamiliar with Darnton's own oeuvre, a few examples:
Jack Kessler, email@example.com
p.s. Two irresistible endnotes:
* An immediately-favorite cartoon appeared a few days ago in my San Francisco Chronicle: Hamlet is standing on a stage, having his chat with Horatio about the skull of poor Yorick -- the words pouring forth are a string of "1"s and "0"'s... the caption, "Digital Shakespeare".
* And... digital libraries fit imperfectly into non-US notions of administrative law, apparently --
Soleilhac, Thibault. "Les bibliothèques numériques, un domaine public immatériel", in Actualité Juridique Droit Administratif (16 juin, 2008) no. 21/2008, p. 1133.
-- "immatériel"... once again the French have the correct term for a thing -- for digital libraries and digital information generally, at times -- neither pro nor con -- diaphanous...
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