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I have been saying for years now that Google is the wrong agent to produce and maintain the "universal library." My great hope was that all the major universities of the world would unite, raise the money, and host such a project. That dream, a human genome project of the mind, is pretty far off and out there.

But current barriers have not stopped smart and committed people like Aaron Swartz from starting the build the thing anyway:

About Us (Open Library):

What if there was a library which held every book? Not every book on sale, or every important book, or even every book in English, but simply every book—a key part of our planet's cultural legacy.

First, the library must be on the Internet. No physical space could be as big or as universally accessible as a public web site. The site would be like Wikipedia—a public resource that anyone in any country could access and that others could rework into different formats.

Second, it must be grandly comprehensive. Even when the full text of a book wasn't available, it would take catalog entries from every library and publisher and random Internet user who is willing to donate them. It would link to places where each book could be bought, borrowed, or downloaded. It would collect reviews and references and discussions and every other piece of data about the book it could get its hands on.

But most importantly, such a library must be fully open. Not simply "free to the people," as the grand banner across the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh proclaims, but a product of the people: letting them create and curate its catalog, contribute to its content, participate in its governance, and have full, free access to its data. In an era where library data and Internet databases are being run by money-seeking companies behind closed doors, it's more important than ever to be open.

So let us do just that: let us build the Open Library.

Earlier this year, a small group of people gathered at Internet Archive's San Francisco office to discuss whether this was possible. Could we build something so grand? We concluded that we could. We located a copy of the Library of Congress card catalog, phoned publishers and asked them for their data, created a brand new database infrastructure for handling millions of dynamic records, wrote a new type of wiki that lets users enter structured data, set up a search engine to look through it all, and made the resulting site look good.

We hooked it up to the Internet Archive's book scanning project, so that you can read the full text of all the out-of-copyright books they've made available. And we hope to add a print-on-demand feature, so that you can get nice paper copies of these scanned books, as well as a scan-on-demand feature, so you can fund the scanning of that out-of-copyright book you've always loved.

But we can only do so much on our own. Hopefully we've done enough to make it clear that this project is for real—not simply another pie-in-the-sky idea—but we need your help to make it a reality. So we're opening up the demo we've built so far, opening up the source code, opening up the mailing lists, and hoping you'll join us in building Open Library. It sure is going to be a fun ride.

—Aaron Swartz and the Open Library team, 16 July 2007


Comments (2)

josh stein on October 6, 2007 1:46 PM:

1. Goolge inc. has been around for about ten (10) years only.

2. Google Incorporated is a private, public-owned corporation.

3. A "corporation" is basically a "piece of paper" "license" issued by the state (usually delaware) to conduct legal business.

4. A private corporation has no power to "force" anyone to do anything against their. If there are no "customers" "revenue" "sales". Google, inc. will disappear. Google will be bankrupt.

5. The Digital Revolution" started in 1947 with the invention of the transistor. Microchips came later.

6. The Internet, computers, digital revolution is really about freedom. All can play on the internet or not play. There is no law that says anyone has to buy, use or access a computer.

7. We do after all live in a free-world.
Now with the digital revolution, there is a "flat-world" for all to access the world's ideas, information and knowledge.

8. USA is nations of laws. US is based on US-constitution. No individual, corporation is above or below the law. The fear of Google inc. is nonesense. Where is

IBM corp
Digital Equipment corp.
Campaq inc.
Wang Labs inc.
Apple inc.

9. In the digital business, every 10-20 years, a new company comes along that ignites the imagination. IBM, DEC, APPLE, Microsoft, Google, inc. In 10 years, a 2nd Google will come along.

I'm a certified librarian, but I think you (and your whole argument) is missing the point. In the past 10 years it's pretty much been shown that in order to get anything done, you need a focal point. Someone to make the decisions, to take the good and the bad press, but to keep going. Expecting the world universities to unite and produce a digital library is laughable at best, especially since politics is such a huge hurdle even within ONE university.

No, Google, the corporation, was the right choice to do exactly what has been done on the Internet. Libraries and Librarians had the jump-start on Google - they were using shared and networked catalogs well before the WWW. But they had no interest in making this available to the general public OUTSIDE of the library, and in order to access it you had to effectively know what you were looking for before you searched for it!

Villifying Google while ignoring our own failure to act on an opportunity comes across as sour grapes. The best way forward is to work WITH Google now, in a partnership. We give them the content, they give us the means to access it effectively. (That isn't to be taken as "they give us access" - we already have access, if you count going to the shelf, taking down the book and flipping through it. Personally, I'd rather just type what I'm looking for into a search engine.)

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Siva Vaidhyanathan

This blog, the result of a collaboration between myself and the Institute for the Future of the Book, is dedicated to exploring the process of writing a critical interpretation of the actions and intentions behind the cultural behemoth that is Google, Inc. The book will answer three key questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google?; How is Google's ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge?; and how has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states? [more]

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Like the Mind of God (22 posts)

All the World's Information (26 posts)

What If Big Ads Don't Work (10 posts)

Don't Be Evil (9 posts)

Is Google a Library? (43 posts)

Challenging Big Media (18 posts)

The Dossier (19 posts)

Global Google (3 posts)

Google Earth (3 posts)

A Public Utility? (19 posts)

About this Book (16 posts)

Other books by Siva:


Rewiring the Nation: The Place of Technology in American Studies (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007)

The Anarchist in the Library (Basic Books, 2004)

Copyrights and copywrongs cover

Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York University Press, 2001)


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