“If it’s not online, it’s invisible”

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The Oxford University Press is in favor of the Google book settlement, and the title of this post sums it up pretty well. But I’ll give you a bit more of their reasoning.

At a focus group in Oxford University Press’s offices in New York last month, we heard that in a recent essay assignment for a Columbia University classics class, 70 percent of the undergraduates had cited a book published in 1900, even though it had not been on any reading list and had long been overlooked in the world of classics scholarship. Why so many of the students had suddenly discovered a 109-year-old work and dragged it out of obscurity in preference to the excellent modern works on their reading lists is simple: The full text of the 1900 work is online, available on Google Book Search; the modern works are not.

I teach first and second year university students as my day job, and I can confirm this scenario to some extent–my classes don’t generally involve this sort of research, but many of my students can’t tell me where the library is located on campus, much less how to find a book in the stacks. Online is easier, and can be done from one’s dorm room or apartment or the coffee shop with the Wi-Fi connection.

OUP’s argument is twofold. The first is that the work has to get put online if it’s going to be useful; the second is that individual presses don’t have the resources to make it happen, and Google does.


Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →