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Magazines > Searcher > June 2008
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Vol. 16 No. 6 — June 2008
Oh, Pooh!!
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine

The Searcher's Voice PodcastThis issue contains a very well-thought-out, carefully researched, cautionary article on the legal status and future of Google Book Search (“Good and Evil in the Garden of Digitization: Google and Fair Use” by Wallace Koehler, pp. 24–27, 57). Professor Koehler is a long-time contributor to Searcher magazine and a highly respected colleague.

Nevertheless, based on sheer enthusiasm, idiosyncratic personal taste, visions of universal wisdom and joy, and a set of Harry Potter DVDs, I proclaim to Professor Koehler and the world, “Pshaw!,” “Piffle!,” and “Oh, Pooh!” If Google Book Search isn’t legal, it should be! If it loses in court, then we should go to Congress and have the copyright laws changed to accommodate it. This is the work of the Lord. This is the work we information professionals, we librarians, should have done on our own, if only we could have. Wait! I stand corrected! This is a work some of us information professionals, us librarians, are doing, i.e., the librarians at the more than 19 libraries (12 in the U.S., seven abroad) working with Google Book Search!

When I interviewed a longtime digitization expert at the launch of Google Print, the original name for Google Book Search, her comment was, “Google has just made all library digitzation projects chump change.” Apparently, she was right, but apparently not in the way she meant. Ironically, instead of libraries shutting down their digitization efforts, new efforts have begun and on a much broader scale. These efforts are getting a lot of help from players previously uninterested in digitization and at prices a lot more friendly to library budgets than ever before. After all, they now have to compete with Google’s charges — free!

Well, well, well! Looks like when the Big Guy makes a move, everyone follows the lead. Hallelujah! So why the quibbling? Why the carping? Professor Koehler’s remarks are mild compared to some of the sniping the project has had to take. (For just one example, take a look at a piece in First Monday written by Paul Duguid, adjunct professor in the School of Information at UC Berkeley and professorial research fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, entitled “Inheritance and Loss: A Brief Survey of Google Books” [vol. 12, no. 8, August 2007,]. I must confess, I wrote a diatribe on that piece in my Up Front With Barbara Quint column for the October 2007 issue of Information Today, entitled “Who the Heck Is Tristram Shandy? Or What’s Not Wrong With Google Book Search.”)

Not all the books in Google Book Search come from libraries. The original Google Print program started — and continues — with publisher partners. Now we all know how generous publishers are when it comes to waiving their copyright so people can access their content with ease. (Sorry! Something seems to have stuck in my throat.) So if publishers partner with Google for content that is still available for sale, the need to guard the orphans left in the care of libraries seems less pressing.

And publishers do sell books because Google alerts people to their existence. I know that for sure. The other day I was watching a John Wayne movie on Turner Classic Movies entitled Brannigan. The Duke played a Chicago cop sent to London for an extradition. His co-star was the distinguished British actor, Richard Attenborough. I got to wondering what Attenborough’s impressions were of Wayne. Hmm. Maybe Attenborough has a biography, or even an autobiography, where he discussed the experience. Whoosh! Onto Google Book Search. Well, I didn’t find what I started out to find, but you know how it is when you’re browsing in a library, you find things just as good. And serendipity seems to work in the Google library as well. When next I order Brannigan from Netflix, I shall watch Duke Wayne simulating police work in a city that has other dukes than he, while sipping a cup of tea and munching on a “Bran Again Muffin” made from a recipe taken from my newly acquired cookbook, True Grits: Recipes Inspired by the Movies of John Wayne. I could have just copied the recipe from the generous preview portion of the Google Book Search version, but somehow I couldn’t resist getting all the recipes, like those “Sandwiches of Iwo Jima.”

Bottom line, the only way to insure that humanity will retain its memory of all that went before the computer and the Information Age is to transform all the content contained in the format used before the computer, i.e., the written word, into the format that will carry us into the Fourth Millennium, the digital word. And that is what Google is doing. Thank heaven. The only legitimate response to any complaints about what Google is doing or how it is doing it would have to come from someone taking on the same task with the same or a greater level of effort. As to the problems of legality and who gets what for how much, we can work them out. All it will take to resolve them is money. But first let’s save the content.

In case you’re still wondering about my earlier reference to Harry Potter DVDs, the other day I rewatched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, fourth in the series. In this one, Harry faced a series of contests with the usual harrowing dangers. For once, Hermione could not save him each time with some arcane bit of wizardry her studious nature had uncovered. Instead, we find Harry paging desperately through the dusty tomes contained in the library at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Watching and worrying over Harry’s success, it suddenly struck me that if Harry were a Muggle like you and me, he’d just go to Google Book Search []! Any collection of books as dustily unique as those in the Hogwarts library would have been signed up for the Google Book Search program long since.

You know it’s not too often that Muggles are luckier than witches and wizards. Sometimes, it appears, our web works better than their wands. At least it does if we let it.

— bq

Barbara Quint's e-mail address is
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