Google’s book-scanning project and restrictions that Microsoft places on books it scans in a similar project continue to attract attention, praise… and controversy. This article in the International Herald Tribune outlines some of the key problems of commercializing information in libraries and of libraries outsourcing one of their key functions.
- Research libraries close their books to Google and Microsoft, by Katie Hafner, International Herald Tribune, October 19, 2007.
Hafner notes that "Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they were put off by restrictions these companies wanted to place on the new digital collections."
One particular example demonstrates how Google’s business plan simply does not allow for adequate scholarly access and use. Tom Garnett, director of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a group of 10 prominent natural history and botanical libraries tells the story.
Garnett said the most striking example of this came when he asked the Google representatives about a theoretical example.
"We asked, ‘Suppose we allowed you to digitize all our literature, and there was an ant researcher who wanted to peel off 10,000 pages of ant literature and load it on his own server and perform advanced analysis to correlate it with climatological data over the last 100 years, using software he had developed to study trends in species research,’" Garnett recalled.
He said the Google executives told him this would not be possible. "They said, ‘We’d be sympathetic but it doesn’t fit in with our model.’" Smith [Adam Smith, project management director of Google Book Search] … said this was not the case. "It’s certainly something we would work with libraries to do," he said.
The Open Content Alliance (OCA) offers an alternative to the Google project, but Hafner says that Microsoft, after joining the Open Content Alliance in 2005, "added a restriction that prohibits a book it has digitized from being included in commercial search engines other than Microsoft’s". This was news to me and I was not able to confirm that.
Paul Duguid, an adjunct professor at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley and author of The social life of information, says, "There are two opposed pathways being mapped out. One is shaped by commercial concerns, the other by a commitment to openness, and which one will win is not clear." And Doron Weber, a program director at the Sloan Foundation, which has made several grants to libraries for digitization, says, "You don’t want any for-profit company having control of the world’s knowledge."
[The article was online on Saturday morning October 20, but I have been unable to find it on the IHT web site since then. A copy is available here. The article is in LexisNexis and can be found by doing an "easy search" on "Major U.S. and World Publications" on the phrase "research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google" (including the quotation marks).]
[UPDATE: the article is now available on the NYT website:
See also: On Google’s Monetization of Libraries, By Rory Litwin, Library Juice 7:26 (December 17, 2004).