Google and Libraries: What's in Store for Google Print and Google Scholar

Boy, that was a packed program! I thought yesterday’s “Top Technology Trends” was packed. Today there were even more people. (see photos…)


What everyone came to see was the panel discussion featuring Google’s Adam Smith along with representatives from the five libraries that have agreed to let Google digitize their books. In order of seating, that was John Price-Wilkin (Michigan), Catherine Tierney (Stanford), Ronald Milne (Oxford), Dale Flecker (Harvard), and John Balow (NYPL). Maurice York (Emory) on the far left was moderator.

Google Print

Although the program was subtitled “What’s in Store for Google Print and Google Scholar”, most of the attention was paid to Google Print — quite rightly because it involves libraries handing over to Google the very things that make them unique, namely, their collections.

It soon became clear however that some of the libraries appear to be engaged in “Pilot Projects”. Harvard for example, is starting out with 40,000 volumes.

Why Google?

The motivation for doing this was obvious: Google has the kind of deep-pockets (or claims it has) to undertake digitizing entire libraries — at a rate far faster than the libraries themselves could manage. It also has, in the words of Dale Flecker, the “nerve” to do it. When Google told Michigan it wanted to digitize their entire collection, John Price Wilkin called it an “amusing story”.

What the libraries get in return are their books back (natch) plus a digital copy of the material. What the libraries will do with their copy isn’t immediately clear. John Balow conceded that these are still “early days”.

Even Adam Smith admitted that Google is in “research-mode” concerning some aspects of both Scholar and Print. Its technology “continues to evolve”.

Access & Preservation

What isn’t in doubt is the increased access these titles will have once they’re part of Google. “It’s all about access,” Ronald Milne emphasized. For Oxford, the notion is to bring the “Republic of Letters” into the 21st Century.

Not addressed are issues of preservation. Indeed, with the exception of Michigan, most didn’t think this was a “preservation project”. The kind of “industrial” process that Google is using (mum’s the word on what it actually is) can only be used on books that are in good shape.

That said, it would be “more possible”, in the words of Catherine Tierney, for libraries like Stanford to concentrate on their more unique materials — with Google handling its part. Dale Flecker thought it might also make things cheaper.


Google intends to scan everything including books not yet in the public domain. The user will only see “snippets” of works where Google has no agreement (read, permission) with the publisher. This naturally raises questions of copyright infringement.

Adam Smith stressed that Google wasn’t setting up a “book distribution system but an indexing system”. That said, Smith admitted that copyright is a “complicated issue”. He suggested a public listing of “orphaned” works post-1923 so everyone would know what was in copyright and what wasn’t.

Trust Google?

One recurring theme was whether it made sense to put so many (library) eggs in the basket of what ultimately is a profit-driven corporation whose first loyalty is to its stockholders.

None of the representatives seemed disturbed by this. As John Balow explained only half seriously, “We rely on the generosity of strangers. This is just another day of work.”

And what if Google should pull out?

“Time will tell,” John Price Wilkin concluded.


Google Library Digitization Agreement With University Of Michigan… (Search Engine Watch).
Includes link to the U-Mich/Google Agreement

Michigan Digitization Project
Good information about Michigan’s project plus links to the other Libraries in the Agreement.

Don’t Get Goggle-Eyed Over Google’s Plan to Digitize. (Mark Y. Herring, Chronicle of Higher Ed. March 11, 2005).
Looks at the Agreement with a Grain of Salt.

Review of Google Scholar (Martin Myhill, Charleston Advisor – April 2005)
Balanced — even helpful — review of Scholar.