Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Building the Largest Library in World History

From this BBC article comes word of the latest big project to hit the web: creation of the largest library to ever exist in the history of the world. Of course, this one will be a virtual library since it hopes to include every book ever published anywhere in the world in any language.

The Open Library, newly launched in the USA but global in scope, is designed to make that happen.

In the words of its creators, the idea is to build a virtual library that stores details of not just "every book on sale, or every important book, or even every book in English; but simply every book."

But what's the Open Library really for? Aaron Swartz, leader of the technical team working on Open Library, suggests that every book ever published needs a single authoritative page on the internet, a bit like a personal homepage.
For the time being, funding comes from the Internet Archive, another non-profit project that has the simple aim of keeping copies of the internet for the benefit of generations to come. But in future, the Open Library will depend on donations and taking a cut of any book sales it hands over to the big online booksellers.

Income will matter more in the face of commercial competition. The Google Books Library Project, part of the larger Google Book Search service, has broadly similar aims.

The Google Book Search Library Project sets out "to work with publishers and libraries to create a comprehensive, searchable, virtual card catalogue of all books in all languages that helps users discover new books and publishers discover new readers,"

Naturally, Google has its own commercial interests to protect and invest in. The Open Library's approach is the opposite, committed as it is to the ultimate in freedom of information acts: not only can anyone browse, search, and read the books in its catalogue - they can re-write the catalogue itself as they go.
Without a doubt, this is a worthy project and a data base of this size would be a tremendous research resource. I do, however, have my doubts about it ever coming together (it's tough to compete with the Google boys in anything and survive for the long term) and I'm not sold on the whole Wikipedia concept that allows anyone to go in and change information or add information that hasn't been verified as accurate. I certainly would never use Wikipedia itself for any research that had to be 100% accurate for my purposes.

But the book geek in me loves this kind of thing and I'll be following the project's progress and wishing its organizers well.


  1. I think I have heard of this--it is quite an undertaking, though I am not sure it will ever happen considering how many books are published a year not to mention are already in existence. Still a cool idea. I actually sort of like the Wikipedia. I wouldn't use it for serious research, but to look up info on a person or place it is sort of handy. I like that it isn't just one person writing it--that it is collaborative. I usually look in more than one place for info though to make sure the information is accurate.

  2. I'll be amazed if they pull this thing off, Danielle. Like you say, just too many books coming out every day for them to be able to keep up, in my estimation. But a lot of things have happened on the web that I would have never thought possible, so it is probably worth watching to see how close they can come.

    I use Wikipedia as a first stop when searching for info on the web. Usually, it leads me to other places to fill in the blanks or to check on something that just didn't sound quite right. It's useful...and dangerous.

  3. This project sounds interesting, and I agree, nearly impossible to pull off. But I love stuff like this, too, and love that people are trying to make it work :)

  4. Even if they never quite pull it off, Gentle Reader, it should result in one of the more useful of the literary databases out there. Here's hoping so, anyway.