Friday, January 23, 2009

Harvard prof considers Google settlement and remains as ambivalent as everyone else

Harvard professor Robert Darton, writing in the New York Review of Books, tries to parse the recent Google settlement -- the one that allows them to go forward with it's massive book digitization effort. It's a solid overview, if not particularly new. He like everyone else, he arrives at a stalemate about how he feels: 

"No one can predict what will happen. We can only read the terms of the settlement and guess about the future. If Google makes available, at a reasonable price, the combined holdings of all the major US libraries, who would not applaud? Would we not prefer a world in which this immense corpus of digitized books is accessible, even at a high price, to one in which it did not exist?

Perhaps, but the settlement creates a fundamental change in the digital world by consolidating power in the hands of one company. Apart from Wikipedia, Google already controls the means of access to information online for most Americans, whether they want to find out about people, goods, places, or almost anything...Now Google Book Search promises to create the largest library and the largest book business that have ever existed.

He ends by acknowledging that no matter how it plays out, the settlement will be viewed as a "tipping point in the development of what we call the information society." 

1 comment:

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

I was able to view recently a rare copy of a Robert Burns book of poetry, held by the Bodleian library, Oxford.

If I had wanted to see the original I believe I would have had to get permission, order it, and wait possibly up to three days before being allowed to read it on site.

Through the GB scan I could read it, at home, out of hours, and not damage the pages. I think it's great - and indeed, 'a tipping point' in ways we are still yet to fully appreciate.