EUROPE TO COUNTER GOOGLE PRINT PROJECT
EUROPE TO COUNTER GOOGLE PRINT PROJECT
2005-05-07 at 11:05:00 am #9186
EUROPE to counter google print project
world according to Google? Europeans have long bemoaned the influence of
Hollywood movies on their culture. Now plans by Google Inc. to create a massive
digital library have triggered such strong fears in Europe about Anglo-American
cultural dominance that one critic is warning of a ”unilateral command of the
thought of the world.”
For Europeans, the fear is that the continent’s
contribution to the pillars of recorded knowledge will be crushed by a
profit-oriented California company – and may end up presenting a U.S.-centric
version of the world’s literary legacy.
Google’s ambitions are grand – if a bit more modest than
the hostile corporate takeover of the tiller of world literature that many
critics seem to be imagining.
The project, announced in December, involves scanning
millions of books at the libraries of four universities – Oxford, Harvard,
Stanford and the University of Michigan – as well as the New York Public Library
and putting them online. It will take years to complete.
So great is the concern that six European leaders have
jointly proposed creating a ”European digital library” to counter the project
by Google Print, as the new venture is known. Other countries are expected to
come on board.
Failing to digitalize – declared the heads of state in
France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland and Hungary in an appeal to the European
Union – is to risk that ”this heritage could, tomorrow, not fill its just place
in the future geography of knowledge.”
Jean-Noel Jeanneney – who as president of the French
National Library oversees a collection of 13 million books – presented a vision
of Google potentially hijacking ”the thought of the world” in a book he
published this week entitled, ”When Google Challenges Europe.”
”I think that this could lead to an imbalance to the
benefit of a mainly Anglo-Saxon view of the world,” Jeanneney said in a
telephone interview. ”I think this is a danger.”
He noted that French cinema thrives only because the
government took steps to ensure its survival against an American onslaught.
Peering into the future, the critics see an age where if
you can’t be found on Google you’re nobody. That may be OK for the likes of
Dante and Shakespeare, but many fear lesser known authors would suffer.
”There is increasing concern, I think, that something not
registered on the Net will not be seen as existing,” Hungarian Culture Minister
Andras Bozoki said in an interview during a European culture forum this week in
Paris. A European project would provide a ”voice” for smaller countries and
their literature, he added.
While giants of Hungarian literature, for instance, are
most certainly on the shelves of the libraries on Google’s digitization list,
they might not make the cut in the selection process – or perhaps only do so in
translation. Or take, for example, the 19th century writer Cyprian Norwid, a
favorite of the late Pope John Paul II. Will Google provide his poetry in the
Many works that the French consider sources of cultural
inspiration for Europe and beyond could also miss the cut in a market-oriented
selection system, Jeanneney said.
Jeanneney, a historian, envisions a European search engine
”at the service of culture” rather than a simple ”juxtaposition” of
However, he also raised the possibility of bringing Google
into the European project, and Google Print representatives met Tuesday in Paris
with French National Library officials.
”We asked an enormous number of questions,” said Agnes
Sall, the library’s director general. ”All of this is part of a very rich
Google said it is eager to work with libraries all over the
world so that even more books can be included in its search engine index.
”We are supportive of all digitization efforts because we
believe everyone benefits when more information is available online,” said
Susan Wojcicki, the company’s director of product development. U.S. libraries
already are contributing a significant amount of material written in foreign
languages, Wojcicki added.
So far, up to 23 national libraries in the European Union’s
25 member states have said they want a European search engine. However, all the
governments have not yet signed on – a critical step toward obtaining the
enormous funding that would be borne by the EU.
There have been critics of the European digitization
Pierre Buhler, an associate professor at the prestigious
National Foundation of Political Science, wrote in an April 29 commentary in the
International Herald Tribune that Jeanneney is off the mark.
”What he called for was no less than the first culture war
in cyberspace,” Buhler wrote.