Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Google News Archive Search

"I'm strongly in favour of the democratisation of access to historical documents, but also cautious about how much information Google now controls," said Professor Roy Rosenzeig, a historian from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in the US."

BBC NEWS | Business | Google opens up 200 years of news

It seems that barely a day goes by without Google announcing another eye-catching search application. The latest announcements are for the Google News Archive Search . This is a search resource that can provide access to news reporting from "a large collection of historical archives including major newspapers/magazines, news archives and legal archives". Access to some of these archives is free and others are on a pay-for-access basis. One of the 'coolest' features is the time line which arranges the retrieved stories into a date-structured order, which allows one to see the evolution of the story. However, it has to be said that this function is only as good as its data sources. I tapped in the 'Crimean War' into the search engine and was provided with a time line that started in the 1890s (some 40 years after the war ended) and then had a time line that ran right up to the present day. I am guessing that this is due to the search engine not having access to records of contemporary European paper coverage. I was also provided with another equally odd time line when I tapped in my own name in to the search engine, with entries ranging from 1986 to the present (but none of which referred to yours truly).

I believe that Prof Rosenzeig ( quoted in the BBC) has hit on to a legitimate concern about these services provided by Google. It is very exciting as a writer, to have a news service archive on the desktop ( as it will save on trips to the library). It is also great that this service can be reached by everyone with a browser (and not just academics). However, it is very disturbing to see access to these services being mediated by a US corporation. In the past, in Britain, for example, such services were sometimes seen as being for the common good and were provided by libraries and foundations. The BBC also argues that it has a role to play in providing access to its archives to the general public. However, one should not idealize the current situation as, for example, the British library has a readers pass system that effectively eliminates access to most of the general public.

It will be interesting to see what regulators and custodians of collections will do if Google tries to extend this service to include further news archive providers.

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