Wonderful Google Quote

October 14, 2008

I collect quotations. One of my favorites is “The right information at the right time is nine tenths of any battle.” That gem is allegedly Napoleon’s. The exact citation I have long since misplaced. I visualize Napoleon making this statement before he heads towards Moscow. The great general’s information was a bit sketchy with regards to mud, cold, and Russia’s ability to let nature take care of most of Napoleon’s troops.

The New York Times’s Web log posting “An Elephant Backs Up Google’s Library” explains that some Google friendly libraries want to set up their own online service for scholars and researchers. The quotation below is attributed to Paul Courant, university librarian and dean of libraries, at the University of Michigan. He said:

‘Google will probably be better than we are at large scale consumer applications.’ But Mr. Courant said that for some services aimed at scholars ‘we’ll be as good or better than them at that.’

A couple of thoughts. First, research means Google to most of the people under 30 whom I have met, surveyed, and interviewed. Institutions can offer an alternative to the Google, but I’m not sure the libraries have the plumbing to deliver. Second, Google is in a position to become the pivot point for scientific, medical, and technical information. This means that Google’s ability to aggregate and provide context will trump the same information without Google’s software value adds. Third, libraries are not exactly at the top of the world’s best endowed institutions. Budgets are tight, and the cash demands of duplicating what Google does may be too great for library overseers.

I want to hang on to Mr. Courant’s statement. In a year or two, we’ll know whether he is correct or like Napoleon before the march to Moscow.

Stephen Arnold, October 14, 2008


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