Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, January 16, 2009

a new life for old books

Over at boingboing, a very interesting post by Steven Johnson in which he discusses, among other things, the research he did for his new book on the great clergyman/chemist/inventor/revolutionary Joseph Priestley:

This is the first book that I have written where Google Books played an absolutely indispensable role. An amazing number of Priestley's original writings (along with other texts from that period) are available from Google as downloadable PDFs, with scans of the original page design and typography, along with full-text searching. Many of these are texts that would be very hard to find even in a major research library, and of course, even if you could find them, you wouldn't be able to search them. . . .

One thrilling thing about these Google Book resources is that you can now link directly to an individual page of a book that has potentially been out of print for centuries. We need to think a bit more about how to standardize these links, given multiple editions and multiple library sites that might have digital copies. But what you can see happening, slowly but surely, is the Memex and Xanadu and the Information Superhighway — all those inspiring dreams of information utopia — finally crossing crossing over into the vast universe of books. Slowly, over time, a page typeset in 1771 might start to get a whole new life, thanks to the growing authority we grant it through that elemental gesture of making a link.