James Crawford, Engineering Director for Google Books, was set to present this morning’s keynote. However, Mr. Crawford chose to fly in on the red-eye, which was of course delayed, and he didn’t make it here for his talk. This provides a good lesson for all speakers – don’t play to fly in a few hours before you’re supposed to speak.
Instead, Information Today quickly and fearlessly put together a panel of experts to discuss the topic: Roy Tenant, Dick Kaser, Stephen Abram, and Marshall Breeding. I want to give kudos to the panelists for giving a salient discussion. Good job guys!
Marshall Breeding started by talking about the (until recently remote) idea of digitizing the world’s books. Very few libraries have the ability to digitize and provide full text discovery. Companies like Google are the only ones digging in to this.
Stephen Abram posited “What are the unintended consequences of this Google Books project?” There are 15 million books online now, more than any other library except the Library of Congress. Once we separate the entertainment group of materials from the answer/research group of materials, we have a dangerous bifurcation. What’s the difference between the chapter of a scholarly work and an article? Are we going to start aggregating chapters together? Library catalogs cannot handle this kind of material – how do you describe a 12-chapter book with only 3 subject headings? The free text aspects of searching Google is going to change the dynamics of the answer space. And those books aren’t going to be a “book database,” but rather fully integrated with websites, video, articles, etc.
Dick Kaser compared this to the digitization of journals years ago. We do this because we can – we have the storage space, the ability to digitize rapidly, and hey – Google has the money! There was some controversy over those first libraries that signed on with Google. The conventional library wisdom is to never trust a commercial vendor. If Google sits on top of the vast amount if data and information, what’s then left for libraries in this space? Perhaps libraries helping people digitize their own collections, digitizing rare local materials. Maybe Google holds the books and the data, but perhaps libraries help out with how to search them effectively.
Years ago, Roy Tenant debated here at CIL that the Library of Congress would never be fully digitized. He says he’s ready to eat his hat on that one. He then brought the Internet Archive and the Hathi Trust into the conversation as well.
Stephen Abram responded that you need to question why you digitize books. Is it perhaps to be able to put ads into books? The President of Demand Media said it would be brilliant to digitize books as a way to gather data in order to game the search engine results. How do you drive search results based on things that are already written? How many people paid some of the billions of dollars in Google’s profits? What are the consequences of a book database that serves up answers based on the needs of the advertisers – the people paying their bills.
Marshall Breeding noted that many libraries have very small collections, and having access to nearly countless book titles is very tempting. The initial Google Books contracts with libraries did not give enough rights to libraries, and that has been a topic of a lot of conversations. Subsequent partners for digitizing projects have asked for more after learning those early lessons. Internet Archive hasn’t done the quantity of books that Google has, but the IA approaches the projects in a more library-friendly way. The library has to pay a small fee for the digitization costs, but the business model on the output is certainly more library-friendly and rights-friendly. How do we find the right deals that give library users the best deal?
Dick Kaser, in looking at the commercial side of digitization, has seen more publishers talking about the potential of digital books. eBook standards were a key topic years ago, but now it just seems that approaching things in HTML5 is the easier and more expedient approach. [and tee hee! Dick mentioned the eBook Bill of Rights that Andy Woodworth and I worked on!]
At some point in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court will make some decision about the in-copyright books in Google Books. ALA’s concerns are about one commercial entity having control over these books, and the ridiculous nature of the “one terminal per library” set-up with no printing or downloading rights. Are we okay with Google having control over access to this information? How are we going to handle this as libraries? How are we going to advocate for our users’ rights?
Roy Tenant then brought up the “26 checkout eBook rental” issue with HarperCollins (see #hcod on Twitter for more on this). Dick said that the idea of lending an eBook is “disrupting publishers” because they’re so into tangible objects. If they allow it to be loaned, they feel that they have lost control of their product. Marshall responded that this brings up the problem of libraries’ automation systems. These systems are not built to deal well with digital content, only physical items. He thinks this is going to change. What is the library’s role when everything is streaming? When books are published digitally only, and not in print? We are trying to figure out what a lending model for libraries can be. There is a real struggle between what publishers are worried about and their feeling that libraries are in the way of that. We figured out how to do it in an age of physical bookstores and we need to figure it out in this new environment as well. Stephen says that the HarperCollins issue is one example of playing whack-a-mole. What would we do without Sarah Palin’s book…omg! Why are we only going after HarperCollins, and not after Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, who won’t let us loan eBooks at all? If we don’t participate in the discussion, there is a danger that libraries won’t have a role in eBooks in the future.
Marshall and Roy then talked about the impact on research libraries. How do you manage large digitized collections in large research libraries? Does it mean you can ship more books to storage or maybe even get rid of a few? Back-files of periodicals don’t exist in many research libraries anymore, and if they do it’s only in storage. The working collections will likely become more limited and agile. It provides new opportunities to think about what library spaces can be.
Stephen talked a bit about eReaders. Do we want Jeff Bezos controlling the market? Do we want Steve Jobs’s values system controlling what type of content is allowed on the market? Because you control the patent on an eReader or have control over market share, should you have the right to disrupt the market and disallow content and information access. He asked: How many of you would allow a single person to ban a book in your library? Do we need to add a Banned eBook Week through ALA? Did we let telephone handset manufacturers tell us what we could say on the phone? Stephen then asked the question that has been riling me up for years: Why is the library profession so silent on an issue of such critical importance to the future of information?