Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars

Whether the Google books settlement passes muster with the U.S. District Court and the Justice Department, Google's book search is clearly on track to becoming the world's largest digital library. No less important, it is also almost certain to be the last one. Google's five-year head start and its relationships with libraries and publishers give it an effective monopoly: No competitor will be able to come after it on the same scale. Nor is technology going to lower the cost of entry. Scanning will always be an expensive, labor-intensive project. Of course, 50 or 100 years from now control of the collection may pass from Google to somebody else—Elsevier, Unesco, Wal-Mart. But it's safe to assume that the digitized books that scholars will be working with then will be the very same ones that are sitting on Google's servers today, augmented by the millions of titles published in the interim.

That realization lends a particular urgency to the concerns that people have voiced about the settlement —about pricing, access, and privacy, among other things. But for scholars, it raises another, equally basic question: What assurances do we have that Google will do this right?

More from Geoffrey Nunberg at the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Dear scholarly and library community,

Can I offer you some cheese with that whine?



It is not just librarians and scholars that have a problem with the settlement. There was a good piece on NPR yesterday that discussed concerns that authors have with the settlement.


Travel writer Edward Hasbrouck, author of The Practical Nomad, counts himself among those who will pass on the deal. Hasbrouck is angry about the settlement because he thinks it is giving away his rights.

"Publishers have clearly used this settlement to effectuate a massive claw-back of rights, of control and of revenue share," he says.

Hasbrouck doesn't think the Authors Guild represents the interests of lesser known authors like himself. He notes that revenue-sharing practices for the electronic rights to books are still evolving, and he fears that the settlement will take away his right to negotiate directly with his publisher.

Full piece at NPR

The settlement may be terrible for libraries. Maybe it'll be great.

The point is that there is a LOT of pointless complaining when it comes to Google, Google Books and the like. The fact is that libraries are one constituency in this debate. And we have no lawyers or stake in the actual legal battle.

Meaning, in my opinion, that our time would be better spent figuring out what to do with the damn thing rather float around a bunch of non-binding faculty meeting bullshit that does nothing except give us the illusion that someone is asking our opinion.