Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge
A View from Europe
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About the author
Jean-Noël Jeanneney was the president of the Bibliothèque nationale de France from 2002 until 2007. Teresa Lavender Fagan has translated more than a dozen books for the University of Chicago Press.
The recent announcement that Google will digitize the holdings of several major libraries sent shock waves through the book industry and academe. Google presented this digital repository as a first step towards a long-dreamed-of universal library, but skeptics were quick to raise a number of concerns about the potential for copyright infringement and unanticipated effects on the business of research and publishing.
Jean-Noël Jeanneney, president of France’s Bibliothèque Nationale, here takes aim at what he sees as a far more troubling aspect of Google’s Library Project: its potential to misrepresent—and even damage—the world’s cultural heritage. In this impassioned work, Jeanneney argues that Google’s unsystematic digitization of books from a few partner libraries and its reliance on works written mostly in English constitute acts of selection that can only extend the dominance of American culture abroad. This danger is made evident by a Google book search the author discusses here—one run on Hugo, Cervantes, Dante, and Goethe that resulted in just one non-English edition, and a German translation of Hugo at that. An archive that can so easily slight the masters of European literature—and whose development is driven by commercial interests—cannot provide the foundation for a universal library.
As a leading librarian, Jeanneney remains enthusiastic about the archival potential of the Web. But he argues that the short-term thinking characterized by Google’s digital repository must be countered by long-term planning on the part of cultural and governmental institutions worldwide—a serious effort to create a truly comprehensive library, one based on the politics of inclusion and multiculturalism.
University of Chicago Press
; September 2008
109 pages; ISBN 9780226395838Read online
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Title: Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge
Author: Jean-Noël Jeanneney; Teresa Lavender Fagan; Ian Wilson
In the press
“Jean-Noël Jeanneney is horrified when he imagines how our children might come to see the world: Will future generations think no great books have been written in a language other than English? And even worse: Will they see history only through American eyes?
The president of the French national library has made himself the frontman in what he sees as a struggle to save cultural diversity. In the postmodern world, the battleground is the internet. Here, search engines determine what tomorrow's generations will click on, learn and think.”--Financial Times
— Financial Times
"A take on world Googleization you're not likely to get from your broker. . . . [Jeanneney] brings his own high-wattage bulb to enlighten us. Be thankful we didn't ban French fries, French wine, and this very illuminating French book."
— Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Provides a crucial dissenting opinion. . . . The Google war chest has all but secured dominance over smaller library efforts, like the author’s own project to digitize the French national collection. History judges societies by how they treat their most disadvantaged members. This book asks only that the Google economy be held to the same standard.”
— David Ng, Forbes
"Whether Google maintains its hegemony in the realm of book digitization or in fact a robust non-Anglo-American challenger emerges to contest it, designers of the next big digital library will benefit from a careful reading of the big objections of this slim volume."
— Henry Lowood, Technology and Culture
"A work that not only addresses a critical issue but articulates practical proposals that can, and should, command the attention of cultural policy-makers and decision-makers everywhere. It is also essential reading for the wider public. The issue is about which principles . . . should guide the processes of digitising the world's literary heritage."
— Colin Nettelbeck, Australian Book Review