Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View from Europe

Front Cover
University of Chicago Press, Sep 15, 2008 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 96 pages

The recent announcement that Google will digitize the holdings of several major libraries sent shock waves through the book industry and academe. Google presented this digital repository as a first step towards a long-dreamed-of universal library, but skeptics were quick to raise a number of concerns about the potential for copyright infringement and unanticipated effects on the business of research and publishing.

Jean-NoŽl Jeanneney, president of France’s BibliothŤque Nationale, here takes aim at what he sees as a far more troubling aspect of Google’s Library Project: its potential to misrepresent—and even damage—the world’s cultural heritage. In this impassioned work, Jeanneney argues that Google’s unsystematic digitization of books from a few partner libraries and its reliance on works written mostly in English constitute acts of selection that can only extend the dominance of American culture abroad. This danger is made evident by a Google book search the author discusses here—one run on Hugo, Cervantes, Dante, and Goethe that resulted in just one non-English edition, and a German translation of Hugo at that. An archive that can so easily slight the masters of European literature—and whose development is driven by commercial interests—cannot provide the foundation for a universal library.

As a leading librarian, Jeanneney remains enthusiastic about the archival potential of the Web. But he argues that the short-term thinking characterized by Google’s digital repository must be countered by long-term planning on the part of cultural and governmental institutions worldwide—a serious effort to create a truly comprehensive library, one based on the politics of inclusion and multiculturalism.



1 Remarkable Progress
2 At the Mercy of the Market
3 Hyperpower
4 The Difficulties of a Response
5 One European Search Engineor Several?
6 Organizing Knowledge
7 A Cultural Project an Industrial Project
A Broader Perspective
Translators Afterword

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2008)

Jean-NoŽl Jeanneney was the president of the BibliothŤque nationale de France from 2002 until 2007. Teresa Lavender Fagan has translated more than a dozen books for the University of Chicago Press.

Bibliographic information