showtiming our libraries 08.25.2006, 6:55 PM
posted by ben vershbow
Google's contract with the University of California to digitize library holdings was made public today after pressure from The Chronicle of Higher Education and others. The Chronicle discusses some of the key points in the agreement, including the astonishing fact that Google plans to scan as many as 3,000 titles per day, and its commitment, at UC's insistence, to always make public domain texts freely and wholly available through its web services.
But there are darker revelations as well, and Jeff Ubois, a TV-film archivist and research associate at Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems, hones in on some of these on his blog. Around the time that the Google-UC deal was first announced, Ubois compared it to Showtime's now-infamous compact with the Smithsonian, which caused a ripple of outrage this past April. That deal, the details of which are secret, basically gives Showtime exclusive access to the Smithsonian's film and video archive for the next 30 years.
The parallels to the Google library project are many. Four of the six partner libraries, like the Smithsonian, are publicly funded institutions. And all the agreements, with the exception of U. Michigan, and now UC, are non-disclosure. Brewster Kahle, leader of the rival Open Content Alliance, put the problem clearly and succinctly in a quote in today's Chronicle piece:
We want a public library system in the digital age, but what we are getting is a private library system controlled by a single corporation.
He was referring specifically to sections of this latest contract that greatly limit UC's use of Google copies and would bar them from pooling them in cooperative library systems. I vocalized these concerns rather forcefully in my post yesterday, and may have gotten a couple of details wrong, or slightly overstated the point about librarians ceding their authority to Google's algorithms (some of the pushback in comments and on other blogs has been very helpful). But the basic points still stand, and the revelations today from the UC contract serve to underscore that. This ought to galvanize librarians, educators and the general public to ask tougher questions about what Google and its partners are doing. Of course, all these points could be rendered moot by one or two bad decisions from the courts.
Gary Frost on August 25, 2006 9:18 PM:
Book Search will be really handy. With it we can identify out of copyright books with enough reader interest to independently scan and reprint. This is going to fun. We can also let Google quantify any pent demand for digital search and presentation of print. All we need to do for the moment is keep the print collections growing and in use. If Google demonstrates benefits of digital copy of print patrimony we could always make another digital copy that is better, more integrated with the use of print and free to all. Libraries are well positioned to leverage digital copy as an attribute of print originals. Library have the books, unless of course, they throw them away.
bowerbird on August 26, 2006 5:47 AM:
actually, according to the chronicle article:
> Daniel Greenstein, director of the
> California Digital Library, who helped
> set up the deal, said Google had committed
> early on to a core value for the university:
> public access to the public-domain materials
> at no cost.
> "They said, As long as we are alive
> as a company, or successors are alive
> using this file, we will make it
> available for free," he said.
> "I've never seen this from anybody.
> That was their opening gambit."
well ok, first of all, i am quite sure that they
_have_indeed_ heard it before, from brewster.
but nonetheless, it's clear from "opening gambit"
that google was totally on-board for free access,
and it wasn't due to pressure from the libraries.
google has even committed, for the present, not to
show any ads next to these search results, which
is a relatively big concession for them to make,
since that _is_ how they make their money.
they've also put into place mechanisms that list
booksellers where the books can be purchased and
libraries from which the books can be borrowed.
seems to me like they're bending over backwards.
now geez, i'm not some apologist for google, but
c'mon people, let's get real for a little bit, ok?
we've got a government that's more than willing to
spend $150 million every _day_ on a war in iraq,
but unwilling to pay a $250 million _one-time_
cost of digitizing the archives of our culture.
(that's 25 million documents costing $10 each.)
we've got a business culture that would rather
_fight_ a large-scale digitization effort than
pay for it themselves, even though they are the
ones who will benefit from it in the long run.
i ask you, who's left?
libraries? yeah right, they've been cut to the
bone as it is. they can barely afford lights.
for 25 years now, i've been waiting, and waiting,
and waiting some more, for our society to get up
off its lazy ass and create a digital archive,
and _finally_ there is an entity out there that is
both _willing_ and _able_ to take on the task, and
there's a whole bunch of people who _should_ know
much better who are raising unnecessary questions.
there are good questions to ask. start doing that.
but watch what you wish for. if you hound google
into giving up this project, who will do it later?
nobody, that's who.
ben vershbow on August 26, 2006 10:08 AM:
Bowerbird, you're absolutely right about the predicament we face in this country. And I'm not fundamentally opposed to Google digitizing these books. I just want it all to happen in the right way. C'mon, you think a few dissenting blogs will give them cold feet? I don't think so. Google is pretty much unstoppable if you ask me. Asking questions is a good thing. Hushing up and just gratefully accepting the occasionally positive byproducts of coprorate mergerism, that's a problem.
Gary Frost on August 26, 2006 6:06 PM:
Bowerbird is right about moving forward. Sometimes its just anoying that the the paper book is considered so displaceable when it is actually, in the enclave of print, the most flexible, persistant, legible and efficent source for all kinds of reformatting.
The polarity here is between those who consider the screen an accessory of the book and those who consider the book an accessory of the screen. We need to move beyond these positions as well.
bowerbird on August 30, 2006 4:30 PM:
google has freed its scans of public-domain books.
what say you now?
Craig Cartwright on December 15, 2009 10:51 AM:
Yes, I believe Google's methods have included using book scanners which read the distance of the pages using infra red 3D scanners, including the curve of the pages. So that when scanned they appear as flat images with little or no black depth marks on that often comes with book scanning. We usually carry out scanning using both ways. But the fastest way is always to slice the book and feed scan the pages if it is possible. (only if books are disposable)