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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Google Book Search And Libraries: An Overview

Via Google Librarian Central, Information Today has an informative overview called Google book search, libraries and their digital copies. It is written from the perspective of librarians Jill Grogg and Beth Ashmore. The entire article is worth reading, but I think it’s also worth highlighting a few of the important points regarding the project.


If you thought that the whole digitization of books was a new concept introduced by Google, the authors make the point that many of the libraries currently involved have been doing this for a considerable period of time.

The University of Michigan for example has been working on various digitization projects for almost 20 years. The Digital Gallery at New York Public Library contains more than 520,000 images from four research libraries. The Oxford Text Archive recently celebrated its 30th anniversary collecting, preserving and making publicly available electronic texts and corpora.

In fact, many of the libraries currently partnering with Google in this initiative are no strangers to the concept; while Google may well have brought the idea fully into the public arena libraries have been plugging away at it with considerable success for some time.

The article also looks squarely at the whole thorny issue of copyright and provides a lot of useful information about exactly what Google’s library partners are doing in this area.

Some of them are simply limiting their participation to books that are no longer in copyright, which is to say material that is dated pre-1923. This covers seven of the libraries, while a further five are open to scanning material regardless of copyright status – at least until a decision has been made by the courts.

The legal aspects of the situation are well covered in the article, from the side of Google, the publishers and the librarians themselves. The search engine and the publishers are both sure that their positions will prevail, while the librarians, stuck in the middle are for the most part taking a pragmatic view of the situation.

Other concerns about the project are also mentioned however, such as the concept that Google is creating a ‘private library’ of a single corporation, rather than a public resource. However, the point is also well made that libraries are also partnering with others such as Microsoft Live Search Books.

Moreover, each library is getting digital copies of everything that Google scans for inclusion in the project, and this is in many ways the real crux of the article – what are libraries doing with these copies? The answer runs the spectrum from nothing at all (at least for the time being) to archiving to planning to include access to the material via the library OPAC and collaboration with other libraries on a shared digital repository.

This is obviously only a brief overview of a much longer article and one that is certainly worth reading in its entirety, and it’s a refreshing change to see the viewpoint of the library and librarians at the forefront for once!


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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