Paper $11.00 ISBN: 9780226395784 Published October 2007
Cloth $20.00 ISBN: 9780226395777 Published November 2006

Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge

A View from Europe

Jean-Noël Jeanneney

Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge

Jean-Noël Jeanneney

Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan
With a Foreword by Ian Wilson
96 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2006
Paper $11.00 ISBN: 9780226395784 Published October 2007
Cloth $20.00 ISBN: 9780226395777 Published November 2006

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. 


Foreword, by Ian Wilson   vii



A Resounding Announcement 

A Healthy Jolt

Brush Fire 

Europe on the March 

Meanwhile, in the United States . . . 

The Lines Are Drawn 

Realism and Promptness 

1. Remarkable Progress 

            A Positive Outlook 

            The Book Will Survive 

            The Need for Librarians and Booksellers 

2. At the Mercy of the Market 

            The “Invisible Hand” 

            Film and Audiovisuals 

            Overwhelming Advertising

3. Hyperpower 

            India, China, the Arab World, Africa 

            Europe––the Courage to Be Different 

            What “Gondola End”?

4. The Difficulties of a Response

            Cooperatives: Strengths and Limitations

            Public Money

            Image Mode, Text Mode, Metadata

5. One European Search Engine––or Several?

            The Loftiest Aspiration 

            Google Is Not Immortal

            Longevity as an Obsession

6. Organizing Knowledge

            The Harvest and the Display

            Disorganized Bulk––an Absolute Danger

            Transparency, Flexibility, and Rigor

7. A Cultural Project, an Industrial Project 

            Two Facets of the Same Aspiration

            Publishers Are Essential

            What Structure? What Budget?

Conclusion: A Broader Perspective

Translator’s Afterword

Review Quotes
Financial Times

“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

Carlin Romano | Philadelphia Inquirer

"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."

David Ng | Forbes

“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.”

Henry Lowood | Technology and Culture
"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."
Colin Nettelbeck | Australian Book Review
"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."
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