by Barbara Quint
If there's anything I hate, it's being wrong. The
novelty of the experience can leave me feeling positively
giddy. If there's anything I hate more, however, it's
being wrong in public. All those hurt, trusting eyes
of shattered readers. But if there's anything I hate
the most, it's being wrong in public when some — or
all — of the public were right, while I was wrong.
To quote the poet, "AARRRGGGHHH."
Nevertheless, my duty is clear. As always, I must
bring my readers as much truth as I can muster and — if
only this once — it somehow seems only fair that
I myself should feel the flat side of the sword of
truth I have so eagerly wielded at others. So here
You can read the details in an Information Today NewsBreak
["CORRECTIONS: Google Print Not All I Said It
But basically, I somehow got the false impression that
Google was transmitting electronic copies of the books
it was digitizing back to publishers participating
in the Google Print for Publishers program. In August,
responding to publisher complaints of copyright violation
as to the Google Print for Libraries project, Google
promised to stop digitizing copyrighted materials until
November and allow copyright holders to send them a
list of their books they did not want digitized. Google
also offered to link searchers who had found books
digitized from the Google Print for Libraries project
to the Web sites of publishers participating in the
Google Print for Publishers program. Once again, the
publishers had to send them a list of ISBNs to activate
Over the last 2 years since Google started the Google
Print project, I have become an advocate of the program,
particularly of the digitization of the book collections
held by five of the world's largest research libraries.
Though I recognized the threat it would pose to the
status quo in which all of us live and to which all
of us cling to one extent or another, I regarded Google
Print as ultimately working to the benefit of users
everywhere and, provided we made appropriate behavior
modifications, to the benefit of information professionals
everywhere as well.
My February 2005 Searcher's Voice editorial, entitled "Tick,
particularly emphasized the benefits of the program
and its inevitable triumph. The theme even morphed
into the title of a panel, "Tick, Tock: Google
held at the 2005 Joint Conference on Digital Libraries.
To quote that editorial:
I could go into detailed predictions as to why this
will play out successfully. I could point to the fact
that this does for book publishers what they couldn't
do economically for themselves, i.e., digitize their
backlists, convert all their copyright holdings into
salable items, and advertise all their products on
page one of Google search results in a special Google
Print sidebar — all at no cost to themselves.
Well, back up the truck. Google does not give publishers
digital copies of their books. The copies Google gives
to the participating "G5" libraries are TIFF
or JPEG files containing images of every page, not
complete books in a convenient format such as PDF.
As for the public domain books, which Google does allow
readers to see cover to cover, all reading must be
done while connected to Google.
So the question arises: With the exception of public
domain, e.g., pre-1920s books, how does Google Print
contribute to the distribution of book literature?
Insofar as a user finds an in-print book from a Google
Print publisher, Google will provide links to online
booksellers and publisher Web sites. But most of the
books on library shelves are out of print, especially
those taken from giant research libraries. Those online
booksellers may help you find used copies and a connection
to the OCLC Open WorldCat "Find in a Library" service
could help too. But digitizing millions of out-of-print
books might end up swamping the retrieval of in-print
books that have a good chance of delivery. In any case,
the Google Print delivery routes offend all three of
the Web's iron laws of user-friendliness: They're not free;
they're not fast; and they're not online.
Add one more depressing note: They're not reliable.
So what could be the outcome? Instead of giving publishers,
authors, and copyright holders electronic copies of
material that could be sold and delivered immediately
to eager users in an e-book format, the Google Print
program could end up dissatisfying all parties. Certainly
when it comes to out-of-print material, publishers
will have nothing to sell; authors will get no royalties
from unmade sales; and users will find they have spent
valuable search time identifying material they have
no way of getting. Knowing end users as all my readers
do, how many times will most users put up with failures
to deliver following clicks on the "book results" listings
before the users just stop clicking on "book results" listings
permanently? Half a dozen? Ten or 12? You're being
Who would think that one would ever have to prod Google
into broadening its vision? Yet here it is. I know
I got my facts wrong, but, in a way, I didn't get the
truth wrong. The only way to make the Google Print
project work for publishers, libraries, authors, and,
most importantly, the Web users of the world, is to
guarantee that what people find online, they can fetch
online. Delivery is the key. Otherwise, it could end
up worse than when it started. End users searching
for the books Google Print presents to them will find
traditional sources — publishers and librarians — rejecting
their requests. The matchless collections of the "G5" libraries
are called matchless exactly because they have what
others do not. OCLC's Open WorldCat will do the best
it can, but all too often — depending on the
location of the user, in most cases — Marian/Marion
the Librarian will not help. One of the new offers
to Google Print publishers made in August allows publishers
to register the books they expect Google to find on
the G5 library shelves and, when searchers find the
books, connect users to publisher Web sites. Gosh,
thanks! So when all those out-of-print book requests
come in, the publishers get to tell users to go shinny
up a pole. Are we having fun yet?
I know it's the early days for the massive Google
Print project, but it's never too early to do it right.
Come on, Google. Give publishers and copyright holders
e-books they can deliver. Change the world ... again.
I'll gladly write an apology for being wrong about
being wrong, if only you make it right.
If you have any worries or concerns, any hopes
and dreams, any blessings or brickbats for the online
database industry or any recommendation, warning,
or condolence messages to send to fellow searchers,
or if you want a rumor confirmed or just to get something
off your chest, please get in touch with Searcher editor Barbara
Barbara Quint's e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.