Google Book Search: Friend or Foe?

4 09 2009
Books: To scan or not to scan, that is the question

Books: To scan or not to scan, that is the question

If you have been following the Tech news in recent days, you’ve seen a lot of give and take over Google Book Search and the forthcoming Google Book Search Copyright Class Action Settlement.   Some say having Google only as our digital librarian is a mistake and forebodes an Orwellian future.  Some are focused on the absence of privacy and anonymity provisions in the settlement while still others think Google Book Search is just plain unusable, especially for scholars.  On the other side, some have offered praise for Google’s efforts.  I personally have found much to appreciate in Google Books like the tip shared here on building and searching your own library.

But I’m interested mostly in statements by Lawrence Lessig in a talk which he gave at Harvard a little over a month ago.  I’m placing the video of his talk below because I think it’s helpful to hear a thoughtful person speak about the topic in a very balanced and “big picture” way (even if he is an admitted Gore-a-phile).  His view is that the settlement is progress. But in the end, it is not enough or perhaps even, the wrong kind of progress.  What we need is an “ecology change” or in my interpretation of his words, our whole environment and starting point of addressing the various interests involved needs to change.  Our culture now is an obsessive permission culture which inhibits an ecology of access to digital media.  Libraries in the physical world operate in an ecology of access (I can access and read a whole copyrighted book for free) but in the digital world, complex legal and administrative barriers threaten to make online access to books more akin to a digital bookstore rather than a library.   To approach this viably long term, we need find a balance between the “commercial life” of a work and the “beyond commercial life” of a work.  Further and right-headed progress will take  humility, openness to experimentation and addressing our “democracy crisis.”  This last bit is where he turns to Congress (a replaced Congress) to enact laws that guide us in this direction.

Overall, he presents a helpful framework in a wonderful presentation but I question if the political/legal solution can be anything other than short term.  Long term solutions, it seems to me, will require the persuasion and cultivation of  hearts and minds to live and breathe a new ecology of access.   Time, education and the experience of  the advantages that digital access brings to patrons of books will be allies in the evolution of the ecology of access we need.

Please watch the main presentation which is about 30 minutes:  The Google Book Search Settlement:  Static Good, Dynamic Bad? by Lawrence Lessig

UPDATE @ 9:00AM: Yesterday afternoon, Inside Google Books, the blog from Google about their service, posted an update about privacy and the settlement which will continue the conversation around these issues.  Today, the opt-out opportunity expires for publishers and authors.  Also, please note that this settlement has not been finally approved and it appears the courts may have this for a while.

UPDATE @ 10:02AM: Interesting CNN article on Library 2.0 in light of our changing times; also, Welcome to the library. Say goodbye to the books…hmm

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