Mass book digitization: The deeper story of Google Books and the Open Content Alliance


  • Kalev Leetaru University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign



The Google Books and Open Content Alliance (OCA) initiatives have become the poster children of the access digitization revolution. With their sights firmly set on creating digital copies of millions upon millions of books and making them available to the world for free, the two projects have captured the popular imagination. Yet, such scale comes at a price, and certain sacrifices must be made to achieve this volume. With its greater visibility, most studies have focused on Google Books, addressing limitations of its image and metadata quality. Yet, there has been surprisingly little comparative work of the two endeavors, exploring the relationship between these two peers and their deeper similarities, rather than their obvious surface differences. While the academic community has lauded OCA's "open" model and condemned the proprietary Google, all is not always as it seems. Upon delving deeper into the underpinnings of both projects, we find Google achieves greater transparency in many regards, while OCA's operational reality is more proprietary than often thought. Further, significant concerns are raised about the long-term sustainability of the OCA rights model, its metadata management, and its transparency that must be addressed as OCA moves forward.

Author Biography

Kalev Leetaru, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Kalev Leetaru is Coordinator of Information Technology and Research at the University of Illinois Cline Center for Democracy, Chief Technology Advisor to the Illinois Center for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Science, and Center Affiliate of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Among his research areas is the intersection of digital technologies and information management and he has recently completed a book manuscript on commodity access digitization.




How to Cite

Leetaru, K. (2008). Mass book digitization: The deeper story of Google Books and the Open Content Alliance. First Monday, 13(10).