Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Re: Google can't be trusted with our books

Posting to NGC4LIB

Going back to the Guardian article, the author discusses something different. He talks about how Google was intending to simply *delete* all of Google Video, a huge resource that people have relied on for a few years now. Google decided not to delete it only when people started complaining. Their reasoning was that they wanted to concentrate on "search" instead of hosting content--a rather strange reason that I suspect may betray more intentions, since Google has been buying up all kinds of hosting resources for several years.

The author compared this with Google Books, saying that based on such reasoning, a private profit-making corporation could not be trusted with such an incredible resource. As he says,
"As a private sector company, the core aim of Google is to make money. The Google Videos situation shows that in order to lower expenditure and adjust its priorities, Google was willing to delete content entrusted to it by users. Libraries have trusted Google with millions of documents:  many of the books scanned by Google are not digitised or OCR-processed anywhere else and, with budgets for university libraries shrinking year after year, may not be digitised again any time in the near future.
Google acted admirably by listening to users and working to save the videos but entrusting such vast cultural archives to a body that has no explicit responsibilities to protection, archiving and public cultural welfare is inherently dangerous: as the situation made clear, private sector bodies have the ability to destroy archives at a whim."
Naturally, the long-term purpose of the Google Books project was for Google to make money, not from any altruistic motives. They do *not* do it all for us. ;-) If it looks as if they will not make money, it will wind up being a drain and what will happen to the project? That is why I mentioned the absolute need from Google's viewpoint (and unfortunately, our viewpoint necessarily) to monetize the book project somehow. While I haven't read anything, it wouldn't surprise me if Google is pinching pennies now along with everybody else in this down economy. If it were bad enough, Google would probably be willing to jettison some of their holdings (is that the idea of closing down Google Video?), including selling the book scans, but if those scans are illegal, they cannot be sold. As my father would have said, it's like spending money on a dead horse. It's a real dilemma for Google but the main losers would be us, the public.

Sooner or later, the books in our libraries will become available electronically because as people become more and more used to accessing materials electronically, the more distasteful they will find the labor, the wait, and the general hassle of getting a physical book to be able to hold in their hands for only a couple of weeks. The non-electronic materials will slowly begin to go ignored, just as happened before, when the texts in manuscripts that were not printed were ignored and forgotten. It would be a genuine tragedy for our entire civilization if the scans are not made available.

By the way, while I very much appreciate HathiTrust, I cannot download the public domain books and place them on my ebook reader. I must read them one page at a time on my computer, which I will not do. I discussed this in a blog entry earlier.
http://catalogingmatters.blogspot.com/2010/03/observations-of-bookman-on-his-initial.html
Therefore, I look for a downloadable version on either Google Books, or I prefer the scans at the Internet Archive. There are lots of other sites out there with some excellent book scans, though.

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