Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rich & Roy wrestle over Google Print

Everyone’s a little punchy on this, Wednesday, the final day of IL 2005, and this was a fantastic keynote with lots of interesting arguments, constructive dialogue, and laughs, led by Rich Wiggins, Roy Tennant, and Adam Smith (project manager for Googel print).

Rich’s take
A few years ago, Rich and Roy started talking about a federally funded project to digitize the entire contents of the Library of Congress. And now, we see Google basically doing this, and Rich is all for it.

Questions about digitizing:
Are we digitizing the cream of the crop or the entire corpus?
It’s hard to weigh a digital library—most of the “digital libraries” are actually tiny and not even near in size to the collections of even the smallest public library.

Think big: what if we digitize it all?
Obvious issues: server space, resolution, color depth, etc…
LOC has about 20-28 million titles in print collection (119 million items in all collection). But, broadband delivery, storage space, and digital imaging is all pretty cheap now, and getting cheaper, so everything’s on the table.

Maybe if it’s worth keeping the item in the collection, it’s worth digitizing it.

Bigger issues:
Rights management: once it’s digitized can we deliver it?
The paradox of latent value: An obscure title sits on a shelf, never used, bringing no royalties to the author, but if you scan it in, and everyone has access to it, then people come out of the woodwork demanding royalties.
Preservation
Improved digitizing technology (Everyone thinks/suspects that Google is doing amazing things with digitizing technology, rumors/fantasies of robots, but Google can’t comment on this at this time. Adam Smith, the project manager for Google Print, was on the panel as well)
Access and Standards (open & XML)

Ok, so what if we only digitize the good stuff? Answer: It’s really expensive to find the good stuff.

One of the really interesting things about Google Print is that it will force the issue of large-scale rights management. We shouldn’t let copyright decisions made back when Walt Disney was drawing a mouse on the back of an envelope dictate our world and our access to our world today.

Google Print has taught us to think big. It’s like the Apollo program, or rather Kennedy’s arguments for why we had to go to the moon, and it’s not because it’s easy. Google is taking on some really, really big issues: technology, institutional, legal. The big thing that’s different from the Apollo program or other think-big initiatives is that it’s not the government, but a company that’s doing it.

Why Trust Google?
Agile and innovative (AJAX)
They show no fear
They have enough money to take on Disney and other big, big players
They won’t do this alone: Ex: Open Content Alliance (added Microsoft last night)

Roy’s take

Google: Catalyst for digitization or library destruction?
Obviously, more access, easier access is better and the more players in the space is better.
It is good that Google is doing this, that the Open Content Alliance is doing this, and that libraries are digitizing things, but there are some big questions and issues.

Scary Monster 1: Copyright Cataclysm
Libraries have long enjoyed “fair use” protections
Google’s attempt to shield their activities under that same umbrella may destroy it for us all

Scary Monster 2: Closed access to open material
The Call of the Wild example: if you go to Google print, you don’t get the free, accessible version: you get a link to the closed copy of the book with a few snippets, but no real access to the text, and access only to buy the book, when elsewhere on the ‘net, you could read Call of the Wild in full-text. (Of course, the same thing happens if you try to find Moby-Dick)

Scary Monster 3: Blind wholesale digitization
Large research collections are not weeded by policy
Copyright will restrict the use of recent material and since users use what’s handy, older material will win over newer, better material

Scary Monster 4: Ads
Most of Google’s revenue comes from ads
How long before we see ads for antidepressant medication next to Hamlet?

Scary Monster 5: Secrecy
The agreements have largely been kept secret
Even the Google libraries themselves couldn’t talk to each other when making the agreements with Google
U-Mich revealed theirs after a ROI challenge
Roy sent the Open Contents Alliance Memorandum of Understanding to Library Journal
A rumor indicates that the U-Mich has the best agreement from the library perspective
But, we don’t know

Scary Monster 6: Longevity
What do Google, Enron, and WorldCom have in common?
They are/were large publicly traded companies driven by profit. Only 1 is still around.

The Harvard library is 400 years old. Google is 7 years old
Which organization do we trust must with our intellectual heritage?

Liz Lawley asked a really compelling question of Adam Smith: How does Google reconcile it’s own secrecy and policies of “no comment” with a policy of increasing access to everything published by anyone else? Adam said that he was new to the company, and that actually, no one had asked question of him in a public forum, but would be happy to continue the discussion.

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