Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch!

I've just read a synopsis of Google's settlement with the book publishers and the librarians concerning Google Books ( See below.

For the past few years I've been showing relevant upper-division classes the value of Google Book Search. Google has been digitizing the books from a couple of dozen of big libraries for several years now. Till now (and I really don't know the date when this will change) anyone anywhere could search this website and pull up records of the books already digitized in three different possible formats: full view for out-of-copyright items (generally 1925 and earlier), limited preview (several pages) for copyrighted with no active publisher-prohibition, and snippet for publisher-restricted viewing.

Publishers didn't like the fact they they had to ask Google to restrict their books to limited preview,and they claimed copyright violation, and sued (of course). Below is the gist of the settlement. What it seems to say is that no longer will out-of-copyright books be available full-text from any computer anytime as it is now. Only authorized computers in libraries will have this ability. [I'm sure the librarians fought hard to get this one so full-view access of copyright-free books remains available, but also so libraries don't become completely irrelevant as providers of classic and historical sources of information.]

Google and the publishers will also LET YOU personally and We, libraries, BUY access to copyrighted books. You could buy individual titles. Libraries would buy subscriptions (To Collections? How much? Will libraries will be able to afford the price publishers deem reasonable. Will access be restricted to the University community or can anyone come in and use it? Will libraries ever need to buy another print monograph? Is licensing the same as owning? Will we be able to interlibrary loan electronic items?)

The two research center idea is interesting, but I'm not really sure of any broadly useful value, other than archival. Where will they be? Will access be free at these sites?

There are so many more questions about the ramifications of this settlement that we don't even know how to pose them yet, much less what the answers will be. ANSTAAFL. I guess we always knew that Google wasn't doing all this scanning because of their generosity and their love of knowledge. Sometime the stockholders would seek a profit. We also know that publishers are not easily adjusting to this electronic world. This is another attempt at control. Will it work? How will it affect libraries?

Here's an excerpt of what Google just sent out:[ Note the enthusiastically positive spin.]

Increasing access to books: the Google Book Search settlement agreement

by Daniel Clancy, Engineering Director for Google Book Search

. . .  The <>agreement, which settles two lawsuits brought against the <>Google Books Library Project, proposes to dramatically increase access to millions of books in the U.S., while at the same time expanding the opportunities for authors and publishers to earn money from their works.  The agreement also provides a wealth of new opportunities for libraries, academics, and researchers, a few of which we'd like to share with you:

Expanded access to millions of in-copyright books:
 Librarians have been providing access to books for thousands of years, and over time they have increased the size of their collections and broadened their reach into the community. The agreement dramatically expands the reach of <>Book Search Library Partners by enabling readers across the U.S. to <>preview millions of in-copyright out-of-print books preserved in their collections. Readers will be able to search these books through Google Book Search and where previously they have only been able to view bibliographic information and a few snippets of text from the book, they will be able to view a limited preview (up to 20%) of the book to find out if it suits their needs.  From there, they can click through to a list of libraries which hold that book, to online bookstores (which carry used books) or to purchase instant online access to the rest of the book so that they may read the book in its entirety. 

Free online viewing of books at U.S. public and university libraries: In most communities, your local library is one of your primary access points to information. Through this agreement, public libraries, community colleges, and universities across the U.S. will be able to provide free full-text reading to books housed in great libraries of the world like Stanford, California, Wisconsin-Madison and Michigan. A newly-created Public Access Service license will allow full-text viewing of millions of out-of-print books to readers who visit library facilities. Public libraries will be eligible to receive one free Public Access Service license for a computer located on-site at each of their library buildings in the United States. Non-profit, higher education institutions will be eligible to receive free Public Access Service licenses for on-site computers, the exact number of which will depend on the number of students enrolled. 

Institutional subscriptions to millions of additional books:
 Imagine never having to ask a patron to wait until a book is returned or arrives through interlibrary loan. Beyond the free license described above, libraries will also be able to purchase an institutional subscription to millions of books covered by the settlement agreement.  Once purchased, this subscription will allow a library to offer patrons access to the incredible collections of Google's library partner when they are in the library itself as well as when they access it remotely.

Services for People with Print Disabilities:
 One of the advantages digitization presents is the opportunity to enable greater accessibility to books.  Through the agreement, the visually impaired and print disability community will be able to access millions of in-copyright books through screen enlargement, reader, and Braille display technologies.

New Research Opportunities with the Creation a Research Corpus: The vast database of books that Google is digitizing is not just a resource for readers, but also a one-of-a-kind research tool. The agreement allows for the creation of two research centers that will include a copy of almost all of the books digitized by Google. These research centers will enable people to conduct research that utilizes computers to process or analyze the text of the books. Examples of the types of research they will facilitate include automatic translation, analysis of how language has evolved over time, next generation search technology, image processing research and others.

This agreement would not have been possible without the work of librarians who have preserved and maintained books for years, and <>Google Book Search's library partners, who worked with Google to make so many of them discoverable online.  To learn more about what they have to say about the agreement, check out our <>thoughts and opinions page.

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