All the books, all the time

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google1We wrote earlier about the Library of Alexandria’s attempt to have all the information, available to everybody, all the time, and the possibility that no book will ever be out of print.

Of course, Google’s attempt to digitize every book ever printed already fits the bill.

As Daniel Clancy, director of Google Books, put it:  “Google said our mission is to organize all the world’s information.”  Every time you do a Google search, he says, you are searching 12 million books.  And it’s free … so far.

In case you missed it, the PBS Newhour did an eight-minute spot on the controversy Dec. 30.  Transcript and broadcast available here.

According to Stanford University Librarian Michael Keller:  “What happens when you digitize these books and make them accessible on the Net is that they get a lot more use. People can find the stuff, 10 times more use than formerly was recorded.”google2

The problem is, Google is a corporation, not a library. According to Gary Reback, attorney for the Open Book Alliance, “What Google is proposing here is not like any library you have ever been to. It’s not a public library. It’s a private library. And it’s being run for profit, big profits. Google is going to charge university scholars, ordinary people, even schoolchildren, to get access to books that Google copied without the permission of the publisher or the author.”

Google says it ain’t so, but Prof. Pam Samuelson of UC-Berkeley has reservations: “There really are not checks and balances in the agreement about pricing strategies. And it seems like, the more books that Google scans, the higher the prices can be. The entire thing transformed itself into a commercial enterprise. It’s basically turned this project into a bookstore, rather than a library.”

At Stanford, top librarians grappled with how to adapt to online books and whether to cooperate with digitizations of their collections. Bookstores like Berkeley’s Pegasus are adapting in its own way:  it’s now selling digital books on its website.

PBS correspondent Spencer Michels summarizes the controversy here.  The comments are pretty interesting, too.


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