There’s little argument to be found that Google Books has made the contents of many books more accessible and searchable – we use Google Books at the library often to direct students to books that are no longer under copyright protection, or to find books related to their topic that they can get from a library or buy.
But there is an old saying regarding data – garbage in = garbage out. In other words, if the information going INTO a system isn’t good to begin with, you’re going to have a hard time making sense of anything. This is why libraries work so hard to catalog our information – to make it findable by our users.
Looks like Google could take a page or two from catalogers: The Trouble with Google Books.
A few excerpts from the article:
“Nunberg, a linguist interested in how word usage changes over time, noticed “endemic” errors in Google Books, especially when it comes to publication dates. A search for books published before 1950 and containing the word “Internet” turned up the unlikely bounty of 527 results. Woody Allen is mentioned in 325 books ostensibly published before he was born.
Other errors include misattributed authors — Sigmund Freud is listed as a co-author of a book on the Mosaic Web browser and Henry James is credited with writing “Madame Bovary.” Even more puzzling are the many subject misclassifications: an edition of “Moby Dick” categorized under “Computers,” and “Jane Eyre” as “Antiques and Collectibles” (“Madame Bovary” got that label, too).”
The lesson? Don’t take search results at face value – double-check to be sure that what you’ve found on the web is actually what you’re looking for. And when in doubt, ask a librarian!