Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View of Europe

JN Jeanneney

Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View of Europe

The announcement that Google would 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 toward a long-dreamed-of universal library, but skeptics quickly raised concerns about the potential for copyright infringement and unanticipated effects on the business of research and publishing. Jean-Noel Jeanneney, former president of France's Bibliotheque 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. Jeanneney argues here 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. 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. 3.0 out of 5 based on 4 reviews
Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View of Europe

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Technology, Business, Finance & Law
Format Paperback
Pages 108
RRP £5.50
Date of Publication September 2007
ISBN 978-0226395784
Publisher Chicago University Press
 

The announcement that Google would 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 toward a long-dreamed-of universal library, but skeptics quickly raised concerns about the potential for copyright infringement and unanticipated effects on the business of research and publishing. Jean-Noel Jeanneney, former president of France's Bibliotheque 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. Jeanneney argues here 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. 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.

First published 2006.

Reviews

The Guardian

Steven Poole

This thoughtful pamphlet by the former director of the French national library examines the implications for non-English literature of Google's massive book-digitisation project… Jeanneney surveys with pleasure the many alternative specialised digitisation projects around the world, arguing in closing for a great polylinguistic digital library of Europe.

17/11/2008

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The Independent

Boyd Tonkin

In his recent polemic Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge (University of Chicago Press, £7), Jean-Noel Jeanneney – former president of the French national library – fired a widely-heard broadside across the Atlantic. He took aim at Google's "spontaneous prioritising of things that fit into the American vision of the world", but unfortunately did so with all the chauvinistic condescension that a Parisian mandarin can muster. Which is a lot.

18/07/2008

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The Financial Times

James Harkin

Jeanneney’s annoyance with the company is visceral; his book drips with suspicion of American motives, and this slim, sometimes ill-tempered volume reads like a manifesto in favour of cultural diversity. His idea of what culture is, however, is too brittle and precious. Culture thrives on contamination; if it is any good, alien influences can only strengthen it in the long run. Where Jeanneney is surely right, however, is to shift the debate about Google on to cultural terrain.

31/10/2008

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The Daily Telegraph

Nicholas Blincoe

Despite his shaky grasp of economics, Jeanneney was minister for foreign trade in Edith Cresson's government. I assume the fact that his father and grandfather were also ministers played no part in his appointment: Vive la Révolution, and all that. But his career highlights a central problem. Jeanneney is not a librarian: he is a government-appointed tsar, and he does not appear to realise that, unlike in a normal library, on the internet a collection and its catalogue are separate.

17/01/2007

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