Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Open Library demo launches

July 19th, 2007 by Seb Chan

Internet Archive/Open Content Allinace has launched a public demo of its forthcoming Open Library project. Having heard Brewster Kahle speak about the OCA at Museums and the Web 2007, it is fantastic to be finally able to get some hands-on time with the work he was talking about.

Open Library is a very exciting project because it offers an open alternative to Google Books’ proprietary and retail/consumer solutions.

The search is impressive and the ability for users (both community and commercial) to improve the metadata of each record – adding reviews, publisher information etc – is exciting. The ability to locate the book in retail outlets (Amazon etc) as well as in your local library is nice too.

The page turning interface works quite well and is less flashy/dramatic than some of the others I have seen around. However, as Ben Vershbow at The Future of the Book writes,

But nice as this looks, functionality is sacrificed for the sake of fetishism. Sticky tabs are certainly a cool feature, but not when they’re at the expense of a straightforward list of search returns showing keywords in their sentence context. These sorts of references to the feel and functionality of the paper book are no doubt comforting to readers stepping tentatively into the digital library, but there’s something that feels disjointed about reading this way: that this is a representation of a book but not a book itself. It is a book avatar. I’ve never understood the appeal of those Second Life libraries where you must guide your virtual self to a virtual shelf, take hold of the virtual book, and then open it up on a virtual table. This strikes me as a failure of imagination, not to mention tedious. Each action is in a sense done twice: you operate a browser within which you operate a book; you move the hand that moves the hand that moves the page. Is this perhaps one too many layers of mediation to actually be able to process the book’s contents? Don’t get me wrong, the Book Viewer and everything the Open Library is doing is a laudable start (cause for celebration in fact), but in the long run we need interfaces that deal with texts as native digital objects while respecting the originals.

And, look – here’s a book from the Powerhouse Museum’s former incarnation – the Sydney Technological Museum! (hat tip to Paul for finding this!)

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