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Magazines > Searcher > October 2005
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Vol. 13 No. 9 — October 2005
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine

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 goes.

You can read the details in an Information Today NewsBreak ["CORRECTIONS: Google Print Not All I Said It Was,"]. 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 this connection.

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, Tock," particularly emphasized the benefits of the program and its inevitable triumph. The theme even morphed into the title of a panel, "Tick, Tock: Google as Library," 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 generous, imho.

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.    bq   

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 Quint.

Barbara Quint's e-mail address is
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