I had been wanting to post some thoughts on recent Google announcements, but kept getting side-tracked by everyone else's comments :-( Not that its a slow day or anything, but now might be as good a time as any...
Google latest announcement re digitizing the book collections a few of the top libraries is producing the most discussion these days. Like many things of this type my thoughts tend to be framed by the picture I form the 1st time I hear news like this. With Google Print (as this project is known), the 1st thing I saw was Spock on the deck of the Enterprise soaking up all the information about some complex galactic problem that threatened to destroy the ship and the entire human race. Needless to say, I am looking at Google Print with a great deal of excitement and favour, unlike some commentators who are suggesting this may not be such a good thing. My first reaction is to say "get over it", but that would be harsh. Some points are good - for example, the challenge of anonymizing searching so Google, and the US government to which it must report, can't track what we search and read. This is surely the ultimate fear of all good librarians - that we can't protect the privacy and the freedom to read we hold so dear. I understand this fear and can only hope that my colleagues and groups like the EFF will make sure this does not happen. Having said that, the promise of finally having access to the wealth of printed material holed up in our physical libraries is just too much to resist. Bring it on I say! Aside from the obvious advantages to having all this material at your fingertips, I can also imagine:
- being able to weed some less used material from my print collection and resolve a long-standing and looming space crunch;
- being able to get access to material I could never hope to offer my students and faculty now or ever;
- being able to search the fulltext of millions of books (this one makes me drool).
- being able to log my search behaviour a la Unalog and share that thought path with my research colleagues (this one makes me drool even more)
I also realize there will be challenges:
- how long will Google and their partner libraries make this material available for free? will it ever be free to anyone but the source of the digital books?
- who will be tracking my search behaviour?
- is my institution going to hesitate to increase my bricks and mortar library or acquisitions budget with this kind of digital library around the corner?
I do think we will easily meet these challenges and work with institutions like Harvard and NYPL to bring our intellectual foundation to a wider audience than the select few that can afford a university education. I also know that the value that libraries bring beyond the books on our shelves is key to a strong and creative society.