Google and the World Brain

I am a lover of books. I truly enjoy reading for pleasure and as a personal preference, always read from a real book (reading a book in Barnes and Noble while drinking a Starbucks coffee is my ultimate happy place).

I find that I don’t get the same affect from reading a book on a screen, and to be honest, it hurts my eyes after a while. I disliked when eBooks grew in popularity, which is why I have decided to base my class project on the subject of books, and more broadly, libraries (and also why I might be a bit biased in this post).

As a research project and eventual short documentary of my own making, I will be investigating the transition that libraries are undertaking due to our advancements in technology.PLAKAT_SWANSKI_WATCHDOCS_WEB

In lieu of this upcoming project, I decided to watch Google and the World Brain for my fifth documentary post. The 2013 documentary outlined the Google Books Library Project as well as the controversy it caused. In the context of this documentary, I wondered how libraries would be affected if all books became free online.

Ultimately how reading went from looking like this 📖 … to this 📱

Google’s mission for the Google Books Library Project was to scan every book in the world with the intention of allowing everyone to have access. Sounds great doesn’t it?


By scanning every book, Google would make it easier for people to find relevant books, specifically those that couldn’t be found anywhere else, such as books that are out of print. However, some say Google might have had an ulterior motive.

While giving people access to a world library would be beneficial to the public, Google would also be the only company to have control of this information and could use it to drastically improve their search engine over the rest of the industry. In essence, Google would create a “world brain.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 11.38.34 PMGoogle also failed to gain the rights to digitalize the books from the authors who wrote them, resulting in a lawsuit from The Authors Guild. Google scanned 10 million books into their system, 6 million of which were in copyright, and not asked permission. Google’s excuse for performing these actions was “fair use.”

The Google Books Library Project was eventually stopped, but millions of books are still available for free on Google Books.

While watching this film, I was interested to see how the digitization process would change the culture of books and libraries. A project like the one Google was trying to accomplish, would have left thousands of authors receiving no commission on their own book.

In addition, issues of attribution and language also came into play. As Google continued to publish books online, most were all in English rather than its language of origin. One of the advantages of books is to learn about and spread different cultures. In the instance of Google, the digitization of books led to an international upset. In fact, President of the National Library of France, Jean Noel Jeanneney, was so strongly opposed to Google’s actions, Jeanneney held a meeting to plan a “counter-offensive.”

From a different perspective, digitalization of books allows preservation. And in this reasoning, other projects such as the Digital Public Library of America and Europeana continue to try to bring books to the Internet. The success of these libraries can be attributed to the ideas of the Google Books Library Project.

But for me, nothing beats reading a real book in a real library, even Ryan Gosling agrees…



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