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 archives.org, 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.