December 14, 2004

U of M FAQ on Google scanning project + musings

This page from the University of Michigan's news service gives some nitty gritty detail on how copyright will be handled in Google's new collaborative project with various libraries. My take? It's really breathtaking. Access to many thousands of public domain titles will be an amazing resource for students & researchers of all stripes. As well, a window into the copyrighted titles will make it a lot easier for people to identify books they want to track down (buy or borrow). It's interesting to note that Google could almost replace the catalogue for these institutions...hmmm, I wonder if Google's thought of that? I wonder, though, does this kind of thing make the actual collections of academic libraries more likely to be used, or less. Will Google users just not use anything that's more than a click away?

One thing I always wonder about: how often do students buy articles from publishers that they could get access to for free if they only knew about how to access them (online or print) through the library? How often will students buy a copy of a Google book (print or online) because they neither know nor care that they could borrow it for free from their library? (via JoAnn Sears on PAMNET)


Anonymous said...

It's really revolutionary. In fact, it's not the only huge book scanning project that's been announced (and Amazon has already basically succeeded at something like this), but somehow -- because it's Google doing it -- it has a paradigm-shattering aura about it. A few stray thoughts I have on this:

(1) Most importantly, will this put pressure on governments to change copyright laws? When it dawns on people just how easy it is to scan an entire library, and just how trivial it would be to change the "snippet" access to full access ... My dream would be a kind of much more limited copyright (say, 20 years) plus an optional, opt-in extension to 50 or 75. That way, the vast majority of material on library shelves which is more than a few years old and not monetizable would slip by default into the public domain unless the copyright owner was actively protecting it. Disney would get what they want, and the rest of us would get everything else. I think the key impact of this scanning project is to make more people realize (in a way that would have been unthinkable only one or two years ago) that digitizing an entire library is a trivial task, and that with the crossing of this technological barrier to putting all published human knowledge online, the only remaining barrier is a flimsy legal one.

(2) What will the impacts of this development be on libraries? No much at present I feel, except for historical research and access to older materials, and Google is blazing no trails here (Early Canadiana Online etc.). But if copyright law changes as per (1), the impact will be radical.

(3) One other interesting point is that it's important to see this in the context of Google's ongoing war/rivalry with Amazon. Amazon did Look-Inside-The-Book, and this is Google's answer. Google's answer is better, of course, because you don't need to create an account or log in to see the fulltext. I'd say Google is still well out front in that war.

Gordon Coleman gcoleman at
Liaison Librarian for Computing Science and Engineering
Simon Fraser University Library

John Dupuis said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Gordon. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this all developes. The more I think about it, the more I see Google's task as hugely daunting -- a decade long project to bring millions of books online. Will they be able to leverage the already considerable number of books that have been digitized? Will a public company be able to sustain that kind of level of expenditure for such a long period of time before seeing significant revenue streams? In the end, will people not really be that interested in the older stuff that ends up being free? Or, will Google's power in the marketplace "force" publishers to offer more of their recent stuff for free, hoping free online access will actually drive physical books sales. We live in interesting times.