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Brewster Kahle on Google Book Digitization and the Future of Libraries

Of all the things I have read about the Google book digitization project and its consequences, this is one of the best. Listen to the interview (Lunchtime Listen!) or read the transcript.

This is relevant to government documents since so many are in the project. The way they are treated and controlled by Google and Google’s contracts and licenses and agreements will have lasting impact on long-term, free, public access.

Kahle highlights two things that, for me, are very important. First, at least some of the participating libraries are relying solely on Google and its restrictions and are not even getting digital copies from Google although they could.

BREWSTER KAHLE: Let’s take the out of copyright, the stuff that’s really–it’s public domain, meaning belongs to the public. It’s lived long enough to become part of the public sphere. But there are perpetual restrictions that the libraries must perform, that if they get these digital copies back, they must put up restrictions on use, such that they cannot be accessible by the general public.

AMY GOODMAN: Who can they be accessed by?

BREWSTER KAHLE: People on campus can use them, for the out-of-copyright works, but just on campus. And otherwise, they have to put up restrictions. And what’s turning out is a lot of these libraries aren’t even bothering to get copies back, because what can they use them for? I mean, in the future, people are going to want to have access to as many books as possible. And what Google is doing is pulling these together for many libraries to build a great collection. Terrific. But the bits and pieces that are going back to these libraries don’t make up a great collection. And what they can do with them is very, very limited. So these libraries aren’t, in many cases, even bothering to get the digital copies back.

Second, when Kahle asked if Google would share copies of digitized books with the Internet Archive, Google refused.

AMY GOODMAN: Conceivably, Google could give you the digitized copies, is that right?

BREWSTER KAHLE: Yes, Google could, but they have refused.


BREWSTER KAHLE: They say that they’ve paid for the work. They want to be the place that people go to get them. So they are going to be the proprietors of the public domain.

Although Google claims its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” it would be more accurate to say its mission is to make money controlling the world’s information.

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