Library of Congress or Google Books? By Ela Erozan Gursel

Digital137Where is the largest library in the world? Most of you would think that the greatest one is the Library of Congress in Washington DC, USA. It has indeed the largest collection in print with 30 million books from numerous different languages and categories. National Library of China stores 22 million books, Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Beijing collects more than 20 million books today. These are the largest physical libraries that store printed books. In the age of digital revolution, when we think of the largest libraries we need to take into account digital ones.

Today, people don’t necessarily read books in print but prefer reading them on their computers, smart phones such as i Phone, Blackberry or tablets like i Pads. These digital books are stored in digital libraries where one can access books from everywhere utilizing a digital device. Instead of going to the library closest to your town, you can go on the internet and access the same information from the comfort of your home. Plus, you don’t need to wait for the library hours, it is open 24/7. Searching for information is easier with a user friendly interface instead of physically going through racks to locate books.

So, what is the largest library in the world – including digital ones? Google Books could be the right answer with 150 million books. Google’s digital library project has been controversial initiative due to the opposition of authors, publishers and digital rights groups fearing that Google would scan books without getting permission. Google was sued for digitizing books and then using snippets from copyright works in search results. Authors felt that copyright meant they had total control over their work and that it was unfair that Google made money off search ads on search result pages that included snippets of their work.


Last week, the NY York judge Chin decided in favor of those opposing groups. Google Books project has been a giant book search engine, an online library and bookstore – a digital book revolution. Although the judge’s ruled against Google, he also pointed out the main benefit of the project to be larger scale accessibility: Libraries, schools, researchers, and disadvantaged populations will gain access to far more books all around the world. Digitization will facilitate the conversion of books onto audio formats and help increasing access for individuals with disabilities. Authors and publishers will benefit by reaching new audiences and gaining new sources of income created. Out-of-print books will gain new readers in their new digital form.


In fact, this all means a new era in the way we read books, we visit libraries and store information. It is a transformation that most professionals in the print sector are hesitant of. Physical books and accessing these books in libraries have been one of the landmarks of human civilization.


Look back in history for great libraries


Let’s take a quick tour on the evolution of libraries from the ancient times to the modern ages. Some historians say that library is as old as civilization itself. People had always been interested in recording the life at their time, the discoveries they made and also reading from thir ancestors’ experiences. At the time, libraries were storage space for knowledge of mankind only accessible for limited number of scholars.


A great civilization was marked by the size of its library. In the ancient world, one of the famous libraries was ‘the Great Library of Alexandria’ built around 300 BCE. At the time, books were made of papyrus or parchment scrolls. The Egyptian king Ptolemy I extended the library’s collection by asking to all the sovereigns and governors to send him works by authors of every kind. His goal was to reach half a million books. Libraries of Pergamum and Constantinople were among the greatest sources of parchment manuscripts in the Classical period. Today, Rome’s Vatican Library is one of the richest manuscript depositories in the world, with more than 65,000 manuscripts and more than 900,000 printed volumes. Most works are in Latin or Greek.


One of the most ancient libraries in the world was the Chinese Imperial Library which dated back to Qin Dynasty 300-200 BCE. Qin Dynasty was the first unified Chinese dynasty from which the name China derived. The Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army were built during this period. The Chinese were the inventors of paper and woodblock printing techniques.


By the 8th century CE, Iranians and Arabs had imported the craft of papermaking from China and a paper mill became operational in Baghdad by 794. By the 9th century, public libraries started to appear in many Islamic cities. They were called “halls of Science” or dar al-‘ilm.  


Until the invention of printing press by Gutenberg in the 15th century, only rare manuscripts existed in the West. Gutenberg’s first printed book was his 42-line Bible known as the Gutenberg Bible. Only 180 copies were printed. Invention of printing had major impact on Renaissance by spreading ideas to the masses. It was during the Renaissance that printing books and acquiring old manuscripts became widespread.  However, the golden age of libraries was the 17th century. The quantity of books went up, as the cost went down. People became more interested in classical literature and culture. Since nationalism strengthened, all European nations were encouraged to build their own great libraries. Bodleian Library at Oxford, Library of the British Museum in England, the National Central Library in Italy, and The Prussian State Library in Russia were among the greatest.


Maybe today we need another Renaissance in the digitalization of books and libraries. We’ll see how Google Books will lead this innovation… Firstly, Google has to find an innovative way to settle copyright issues and calm the authors and publishers. Only then, Google’s Library project could turn into a public library in the cloud from which everyone can access information.

elaerozangurselEla Erozan Gürsel writes a weekly column named “Değişim Yelpazesi ” on global business trends for Dünya Gazetesi on behalf of Datassist for almost two years. Her feature topics include: green energy; climate change; impacts of financial crisis on companies, sectors and regions; innovative technologies in sciences, human resources and management; social networks transforming business and politics; changing dynamics of marketing and branding.

She also writes articles for international magazines published in Singapore.

Prior to her writing career, she worked at Datassist as a Project Manager in a project that combines human resources and mobile communications with the aim to connect blue-collar workers and employers through mobile phones. Before engaging in this exciting project, she was in pharmaceutical sales working for a multinational company. She graduated from American University, Washington, DC, majoring in International Studies with a concentration on International Business and Europe. She worked in Washington D.C. as an Account Manager at a boutique telemarketing firm that specializes in fund raising and publication renewals. She speaks Turkish, English, French, and Spanish. She currently resides in Singapore with her husband.


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