It coulda been us (I’m just sayin’)…

…that we, as Librarians, who work in Libraries, could have seen this one coming, and maybe, just maybe , done something about it. Like buy stock in Google.

I am trying to keep up on the Google Digital Library case, and the arguments are flowing outta this one like Swine Flu

introducing the Swine Flu Dancers!

introducing the Swine Flu Dancers!

across the Rio Grande. Orphan books, copyright holders, authors, publishers, censorship, this case has got it ALL!


As many of us already know, in 2005 Google was sued by the Author’s Guild (of Calamitous Intent), because they were showing snippets of texts online, which then led to the 2007 settlement (SETTLEMENT!) that ended up covering book holders, so no harm, no foul. Google was able to scan, index, display and even sell all books in print online (sure makes research a heckuva lot faster). Now this sets up Google as the world’s largest digital Library, which, by the way, looks nothing like you might imagine. Or this image, as a matter of fact.

Digital Library screenshot

NOT the Google Digital Library

Officially, ALA, ARL and ACRL do NOT oppose this settlement, but are more worried about it than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. The Department of Justice is already investigating the matter, as it stinks to high heaven like an anti-trust matter. Is it? Who knows? I’m not the DoJ, or the AG, for that matter. Who is? You’ll have to TORTURE it out of me.

As they state in their brief:
“The Library Associations do not oppose approval of the Settlement. The
Settlement has the potential to provide unprecedented public access to a digital library
containing millions of books. Thus, the Settlement could advance the core mission of the
Library Associations and their members: providing patrons with access to information in
all forms, including books. However, the digital library enabled by the Settlement will be
under the control of Google and the Book Rights Registry.”

And it is this Book Registry (a not-for-profit entity) that has gotten all of our knit-sweaters in a bunch, because since it sits at the distributing end of this operation, it may take a page from other vendors and charge a subscription fee for the use of the digital database. As it is, Universities and Colleges pay a small fortune for their subscriptions, and according to a Wired article “A university library spends an average total of $4.3 million a year for online journal subscriptions. If journal subscriptions are “comparable” to the institutional subscription, and a library pays $4.3 million for access to 31,000 journals, one can only imagine the price the Registry might insist upon for a subscription to millions of books.” Like, whoa. Or, as ALA puts it, “The institutional subscription could evolve into an essential research facility, but
in the absence of any meaningful competition, the Registry and Google can set the price
of the subscription at a profit maximizing point beyond the reach of many libraries.” Like WHOA, indeed. I mean, just because they’re paranoid, doesn’t mean Google’s not after their books, amirite?

Also, this case strikes fear into the very heart of an issue near and dear to me, CENSORSHIP. I am NOT a big fan, needless to say, and as Google has bowed to pressure before (most notably with their self-censorship in China, although to founder Sergey Brin’s credit, he did regret the action), the concern for censorship in the Digital Library is possible, and quite palpable.

Again, according to the Wired article, “the agreement gives [Google] the right to keep up to 15 percent of the books it scans out of the available database for no reason. After all, the Library Project will allow minors to access up to 20% of the text of millions of books from the computers in their bedrooms and to read the full text of these books from the public access terminals in their libraries. Although public libraries have often contended with demands to eliminate or restrict access to specific books, any collection management decision by a particular librarian affected only that community. Here, by contrast, if Google bends to political pressure to remove a book, it will suppress access to the book throughout the entire country.”

AHHHHHH! Now this is, in fact, crazy-making. We Librarians already have to contend with the confused, the contentious and the cantankerous when it comes to reviewing challenged books, but what about Google? Is there a process? Who gets to make that decision? How could it possibly pull a book from the database in one area and make it available in another? Oh-eM-Gee.


1 Comment

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One response to “It coulda been us (I’m just sayin’)…

  1. Kristina

    Where did you get the picture of the swine flu ballerina’s?

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