A Library to Last Forever [NYT Op Ed]


Op Ed by SERGEY BRIN - Co-founder of Google

New York Times: “THE fundamental reasons why the electric car has not attained the popularity it deserves are (1) The failure of the manufacturers to properly educate the general public regarding the wonderful utility of the electric; (2) The failure of [power companies] to make it easy to own and operate the electric by an adequate distribution of charging and boosting stations. The early electrics of limited speed, range and utility produced popular impressions which still exist.”

This quotation would hardly surprise anyone who follows electric vehicles. But it may be surprising to hear that in the year when it was written thousands of electric cars were produced and that year was nearly a century ago. This appeared in a 1916 issue of the journal Electrical World, which I found in Google Books, our searchable repository of millions of books. It may seem strange to look back a hundred years on a topic that is so contemporary, yet I often find that the past has valuable lessons for the future. In this case, I was lucky — electric vehicles were studied and written about extensively early in the 20th century, and there are many books on the subject from which to choose. Because books published before 1923 are in the public domain, I am able to view them easily.

But the vast majority of books ever written are not accessible to anyone except the most tenacious researchers at premier academic libraries. Books written after 1923 quickly disappear into a literary black hole. With rare exceptions, one can buy them only for the small number of years they are in print. After that, they are found only in a vanishing number of libraries and used book stores. As the years pass, contracts get lost and forgotten, authors and publishers disappear, the rights holders become impossible to track down.

Full op ed by Google Founder Sergey Brin


"...new projects will not immediately have the same rights to orphan works..."

no one will be able to afford the legal process like Google can.

look at the Wired story about how Google has abandoned Usenet to see the future of all these books IF Google Books can't justify it survival with advertising revenue. the books will still be there, but without maintenance, the index with become unsearchable and worthless.

No one denies that clarifying the orphan books question is important, but to give Google the monopoly over them is wrong.

but really, what does it matter. Advertising is a harmless enterprise, so if Google makes billions from tracking our reading habits to sell us ads, why should I complain.

I agree when it comes to the neglect Google has paid to what it acquired from Dejanews. That was neglect by choice and there was nothing inevitable about it. Between that and the blockade by Time Warner Cable against any NNTP traffic on its network, USENET is just a memory to me until I can find a UUCP peer.

While Google Books looks pretty, it isn't all that useful to me. When we recently had to look up data about a horse that was sick, all we could find were out of date vet books. Current data would have been nice but would not have been in the archive.
Stephen Michael Kellat, MSLS

If you want up to date information you'll still have to buy new books and subscribe to new services through existing mediums.

That's not a library, that's a mausoleum.

Physical libraries do, when budgets still permit, actually acquire new resources on an on-going basis. Normally these are current materials. Some backfill to cover historical holes in the collection can occur as well, though.

What Google is building is nothing like that.
Stephen Michael Kellat, MSLS

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