Monday, January 5, 2009

The Boundaries of a Book

There is a new article about Google Book Search in the The New York Times, “Google Hopes to Open a Trove of Little-Seen Books,” available from:

Google Book Search, which makes books more searchable and accessible, is changing how we use books as well as how we think of them.

When one renders a book from Google’s collection, one is looking at a digital copy of a particular physical copy of a book: the physical copy, whatever its condition, has been used to create a new, universal digital copy. Fortunately, Google scans whole physical books, including covers and endpapers; this helps preserve a sense of how a book is more than its intellectual content—it consists of a material container, too. But the digital containers for these reformatted books are rather different from their physical predecessors. Today I was surprised to discover that the text from a library label was included in my search of the text of a book.