Dave Totten's personal voyage to the land of IT Fluency, and other Digital Governance issues.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Fluency Milestone #3: searching & finding

This is a question I posted on the bullitin board, but I'm writing it here as well, in the context of a "Fluency Milestone," since it relates so closely to Snyder's chapter about searching & finding.
In the October 17, 2005, New Yorker, there's an article about a map thief. His name is Forbes Smiley III, and he's charged with stealing three maps from the rare book collection at Yale. He could also be charged in federal court with a fourth theft, but at the time the article was written, that hadn't happened.
Smiley knows maps. He knows exactly what he's looking for and where the maps can be found: usually in very old books. Often, the owners of the books don't know that a map on one page of the book could be worth more than the book together. The article mentions one rare book dealer who sold a book to Smiley, then learned that before buying it, Smiley had already agreed to sell three maps out of the book--for many times the value of the book. The seller was heart-sick to realize that his rare and precious book had been cut apart for the value of its individual pages.
Smiley was allegedly able to commit these crimes over the course of years, for one simple reason: people don't really know what's inside a book. He knew that a book in the "history of tobacco" collection at the New York Public Library would have a priceless map of Virginia, but did the collection's librarians?
In class, we heard from an expert at searching for documents about FUTON bias, or "FUll Text On Net," where researchers only use documents they can find online. The fact is that not every piece of information is available on the Internet, yet, and for the information that is available offline, we still can't find what it is.
The problem is that most ways of searching for books in a library only tell you what's on the outside of the book. You can find the title, the author, the subject... maybe a quick synopsis. But what about the mention on the inside of your great-great-grandfather being listed on a casualty report from the Second Battle of Bull Run? How would I ever be able to find out that he is listed in this book? If he was listed in a table, that might be part of the index, but what if he was mentioned in passing in the prose? That might not be indexed.
Enter Google Print... an experiment to index the world's printed knowledge. If you search this site for your ancestor's name, Google will give you a list of books with his name in it. You can see a page of the book-- or maybe just a couple sentences-- around the keyword you wanted. If you want to buy the book online, there are links (which nets Google a tidy profit) and also links to library systems to put the book on reserve.
If Google Print lives up to this promise, it's going to totally change the way we find printed information. I belive it's going to be a boon to publishers and writers (who will have to set aside their paranoia about copyright infringement in favor of the tremendous marketing advantage-- unlike their musician collegues) as well as for libraries. With new ways of search the insides of books, libraries will be more important than ever. Many more people will realize what's in the books in libraries and will go there to get at it.

4 Comments:

Blogger Piotr Konieczny said...

On a unrelated note, I think you will enjoy today's Featured Article on Wiki :)

10:31 PM

 
Blogger Piotr Konieczny said...

On another unrelated note, did you know your blog is hot stock at BlogShares? :)

5:36 PM

 
Blogger Damien said...

That blogshares thing is weird--I checked my "valuation" and got depressed. Apparently I need to generate more internal and external linking. :-) Anyone know the nuts and bolts of how this blogshares thing works?

2:57 PM

 
Blogger Jonathan Lu said...

This is a problem that has libraries confounded for decades. People are trying to catch these people. But the majority of the time these people aren't being charged due to the potential damage that it will reflect on the institution.

2:53 AM

 

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