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This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education takes Google to elaborate task for its inadequate metadata.
What is metadata? It’s a word that I was utterly unfamiliar with up until about 6 months ago. And my grasp of its meaning is still that of a non-expert. My definition of “metadata” is: the descriptive data attached to the electronic records of library materials, be they books, articles, or other documents/items, that allow for search engines to find those materials. (I am sure my colleagues here will correct me when I am wrong–or elaborate on that definition if they find it inadequate). In short, if there is bad or incomplete metadata, the best materials for the searching patron may never turn up, when they type in subject categories, author names, book titles, or publication dates.
Google’s massive book-scanning project inspires a great many alarmist conversations among academics, and I have my own reservations about the Google-ization of academic publishing. But it seems clear to me that, if Google is going to do this, with the purpose of making nearly all of academic publications accessible and searchable, they should at least do it correctly. This article points to the errors already embedded in Google’s metadata, and highlights the potential trouble for scholars if those errors are allowed to persist.
Do you expect to be able to find useful information when you Google things? How can you expect it, if there are such serious flaws in their methods? Perhaps this is a hint that Google is not actually the be-all end-all of academic search, but remains just a starting point.
Among the messages I take from the article today is the one that states: Google should be employing actual metadata experts in their books project. And also that, for now, the need for librarians and their expertise is not going away anytime soon.