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

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The recent 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 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-Noel Jeanneney, 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. 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.

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.

"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

Publication Date: 
September 1, 2007