About a year ago I was investigating whether there was any sort of relationship between Cardinal Richelieu and Rene Descartes for a project I was working on. In the past I would have headed off to the stacks in Baillieu Library and spent perhaps a whole day pouring over the bays of books on French history. I would learn all sorts of other things but not necessarily what I was after.
With Google Book Search I simply type in some keywords and out pops the result in a couple of seconds. The astounding thing is that I have just done a fulltext search of all the books in some of the world’s great research libraries and come up with stuff from the entire collection not just from 944 point whatever the era the two gentlemen hung out in.
The “limited preview” above is from a book on classical mechanics. There is no way I would have looked for such a book at the Baillieu. It would not have entered my mind, yet Google gave me this and plenty of other bits and pieces of what I wanted on a platter.
Often, the amount of information contained in the snippets is enough. If it isn’t then one click links me to WorldCat which lets me know the book is available at The University Of Melbourne in their physics library.
In a fascinating book called Google and the myth of universal knowledge, (available from the KBT Essendon Campus), the author argues that the overwhelmingly English language selection of books from predominantly American libraries will skew (he probably means screw!) the world’s cultural heritage by broadening the dominance of American culture worldwide.
The internet is definitely the new cultural battleground. Thankfully everyone has the opportunity to chip in with their two-bobs worth.