Scan This… Blog?

Out of this week’s reading, I really enjoyed “Scan This Book!” by Kevin Kelly. The piece really got me thinking about the potentiality of a Digital Alexandria. When I started the article I wasn’t sure if Kelly’s enthusiasm was sincere or whether he was setting up an image he would soon be knocking down. It was soon clear that while Kelly acknowledges the potential limitations and roadblocks in the way, he seems to see the digitization process as beneficial and, likely, inevitable.

The piece is eight years old and many of Kelly’s predictions and musings seem to have come true in the intervening years. He discusses the potential for connectivity and interactivity once books moved to digital format. Kelly says that digital books will “have some of its words linked to definitions,” already a reality with Kindle books where you can instantly see a definition for any word in the book.1 In many ways the the community aspect of reading books has already become a reality too, through programs like Zotero or GoodReads people can share their book lists and illuminate connections between various books that would possibly have been more difficult to locate previously. Kelly also focuses often on the concept of sources being mashed-up and remixed, much like Mills Kelly discusses in his book, Teaching History in the Digital Age.2 Indeed, the students who have gone through their secondary education since Kevin Kelly wrote his piece are the ones now occupying the seats in Mills Kelly’s classes.

Google’s lawsuit with the Author’s Guild was dismissed in 2013, freeing Google to continue their scanning for now.3 In fact, Judge Chin, who dismissed the case, explained his decision in language very similar to Kelly’s. Chin’s decision states:

(Google Books) has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.4

Regardless of the outcome of the suit, Kelly states that Google’s plans to begin scanning books on a massive scale has spurred action from publishers; “They are now busy digging deep into their records to see what part of the darkness they can declare as their own.”5 This implies that publishers are now realizing the necessity of knowing what is in the dark portions of their catalogs and, while searching for items that might bring in large revenue, they will end up sorting out the more numerous but less notable titles.

A final thought that stuck out to me was regarding the use of the web to bring forward niche topics of interest, especially since I will be doing my digital project this semester on just such a topic. Kelly states:

works on the margins of popularity will find a small audience larger than the near-zero audience they usually have now. Far out in the “long tail” of the distribution curve — that extended place of low-to-no sales where most of the books in the world live — digital interlinking will lift the readership of almost any title, no matter how esoteric.6

I think the same applies not only to the sale of books on esoteric topics, but also on the creation of sites, forums, and community groups on such topic. These digital points of information can, in turn, help support the sales of academic or popular books on these topics if the users are made aware of their presence.

Kelly’s article was brimming with optimism and potential, just my speed, and I very much enjoyed reading and comparing how technology has progressed so far and imagining what we have yet to come.



1. Kelly, Kevin. “Scan This Book!” The New York Times, May 14, 2006, sec. Magazine.

2. Kelly, T. Mills. Teaching History in the Digital Age. University of Michigan Press, 2013.–teaching-history-in-the-digital-age?g=dculture;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1.

3. “Google Book Search Settlement Agreement.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, September 5, 2014.

4. “Google Wins: Court Issues a Ringing Endorsement of Google Books.” Accessed September 13, 2014.

5. Kelly, Kevin. “Scan This Book!” The New York Times, May 14, 2006, sec. Magazine.

6. Ibid.


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