Online Archives

For this blog post I examined Google Books, and the Open Content Alliance. I also revisited the Gallica archive of the Biblioteque nationale de France.

Pros:  I would say that the pros certainly out way the cons when it comes to digital archives.  Having access to collections from libraries and collections from all over the world is a gift to scholars and curious people everywhere.Google Books is a wonderful resource because it is not limited to one physical archive, and additions are constantly being added. It is very usable, anybody who has ever searched regular Google can search Google Books. The Open Content Alliance, like Google books draws from multiple different archives. Housed on, this service digitizes books in a manner that is arguably more interesting than Google. While the books on Google Books are reminiscent of reading a PDF file, the Open Content Alliance maintains the experience of reading a physical book as best as they can. This service is very easy to use and to search. Gallica digitizes documents only from the Biblioteque nationale de France and its partners. Of the three archives that I examined, the digitization on the Gallica website is the highest quality. It keeps the feel of reading a book, while also seeming like you could touch the page and feel the imprint of the letters through your screen. Gallica also has an excellent search feature. The search functions of Gallica and the Open Content Alliance are much more comprehensive than that of Google Books as they categorize your searches while Google simply gives you a giant list. The Open Content Alliance and Gallica are also entirely free services.

Cons: Straight off the bat, I would argue that Google Books is deceptive. On the homepage they urge the visitor to “search the world’s most comprehensive index of full-text books”. Although they probably are  the most comprehensive index of full-text books, not all of their immediate or free results are full-text. If you search for a newer book it will appear a result but only as a preview and a link to buy the e-book. Due to copyright laws this makes sense, but Google touts itself as a free service. It can be frustrating to think that a service is free and then find out that you must pay for some of it. Additionally, like regular Google, Google Books presents the user with millions of results, the majority of which have no relevance to the user’s search. Of all of the three archives, the Open Content Alliance seems to be the most limited, they only have 194,647 documents as opposed to Google Books’ millions. Although the results will be much more specific to what you search, it means that they might not have exactly what you want. The homepage of the Open Content Alliance is overwhelming. All of the books in their collection are laid  out in front of the viewer in a mish-mashed, disorganized fashion. The books can be organized according to the number of views, alphabetically, date published, and creator but not thematically. Gallica’s homepage is also overwhelming but in a different way. It is full of news from the online archives, links to selected collections, links to projects by the archive, links to partner websites and links to blog posts, and videos.  This disorganization does not hinder the usability of either website.

Overall: All of these services provide users with access to documents that they otherwise would have had to travel to see. Although none of these online archives are perfect, they are all very usable and convenient. Most problems arise from the design or transparency of the website which, in the long-run, would probably only cause minor headaches. Although nothing beats reading and holding a physical book, or seeing a document in person, these services are a great resource for those who cannot do so.

5 thoughts on “Online Archives

  1. I definitely agree with your point about deceptive advertising. It actually is a pretty comprehensive INDEX of full-text books, but they don’t actually let you read most of them unless you pay them first… And what good is a “comprehensive” index if it’s full of useless junk data that actually makes it harder for users to find the things they’re looking for?

  2. The biggest thing that keeps me from using sources like Google Books or OCA is that there’s no easy way to take notes. Maybe if these materials could be downloaded so that I could mark them up somehow, that would make me more inclined to use them.

    1. I just want to be a little digitization fairy and slip in to say that you can download PDFs of public domain books from Google Books and the Internet Archive! And that if those books are already searchable, they should be highlight-able on your PDF! The only downside is that the files are usually massive.

  3. I agree that it is very frustrating how difficult it can be to find full-text books on Google Books. Sometimes I see that they have a text I need, so I don’t look elsewhere for it and later find that it was incomplete or not free when I really need it. This aspect of the site can make it pretty unreliable. And while like you pointed out, Google Books can feel like using a PDF file which is almost as familiar to readers as physical books, you cannot save the texts on your computer, annotate, or highlight like with PDFs.

  4. I completely agree on your assessments on the pros of those three websites. Those are some of the same ones I looked and I agree that Gallica is simply amazing with its quality. Because it more comprehensive than google books a lot can be found quicker. Also yes, Google Books does feel like a PDF.

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