Search-engine junkies gathered in Rackham Auditorium last weekend for a University symposium on digital information.
The symposium was organized around the University’s involvement in the Google Book Project – a massive digitization campaign in which Google aims to copy and digitize books available in the University libraries as well as others.
Google is hoping to create a searchable database of copyrighted works that would present searchers with snippets from books.
Because of this project, the Authors Guild – a group that represents 8,000 published authors – is suing Google for allegedly violating copyright laws.
University President Mary Sue Coleman opened the symposium with continued strong support for the project.
Coleman stressed the need for mass digitization to protect books murky heritage and culture.
“Our work is about the social good of promoting and sharing knowledge,” she said. “As a university, we have no other choice but to make this happen.”
Coleman addressed the legal concerns of the publishers who object to the project.
“We know there are limits on access to works covered by copyright,” she said. “If, and when, we pursue those uses, we will be conservative and we will follow the law.”
She assured attendees that the digitizing would aid intellectual pursuit.
“Trust me, students will not be reading digital copies of ‘Harry Potter’ in their dorm rooms,” she said.
But the symposium was not all about the project.
According to some participants, search engines are not entirely effective.
Princeton University Prof. Ed Tenner said students often do not look beyond the shallow facts provided by initial search engine results. Students using search engines often think they are great researchers when they actually aren’t, he said.
“(Search engines) turn up ideas and sources that are ‘good enough’; but in the 21st Century, ‘good enough’ is not good enough,” Tenner said.
Tenner said students often don’t go past their initial searches. He also pointed out that better search engines than Google exist for scholarly research that cluster web pages based on similar ideas and principles rather than a random selection.
Panelists also stressed the need for greater accessibility and communication among universities and other scholarly institutions in order to provide information to the people who desire it.
Michael Keller, Stanford University’s chief librarian, said that in the digital age, the concept of the library as merely a building needs to change. He stressed that libraries need to be viewed as sources that must be open for intellectual access by all, and that mass digitization is one way to accomplish this.