Google Book Search Rumours and Rumbles

A week ago there was a report in the Library Journal that the publishers and Google were going to settle their copyright dispute very soon now. No further news on that so far — and if there was going to be a friendly settlement the Frankfurt Book Fair would have been a good place and a good time to smoke the pipe of peace. My own hunch is that Google will gain more by prolonging this argument than by settling it, so I am not expecting an early compromise. Perhaps there was no subtance to the rumour

The rumble, of elephants crashing around in the forest, is another matter. Something is really happening with HathiTrust, which sees a score of top american university libraries collaborate to produce a giant shared digital library. See an early interview with John Wilkin, its director in the Library Journal. Why elephants? Hathi is the hindu word for elephant, and the name was chosen because elephants remember, elephants are large and they are strong. The focus of the consortium is on preservation and access. On being there when Google has gone. They are already doing some important things which Google Book Search does not do (like being open and informative about what they have). Major university libraries have staying power and I bet this organisation will prosper.

Google Book Search is still the elephant in the library, but the existence of this consortium shows two things. Three years ago major libraries were saying that they could never do the kind of thing which GBS contemplates. Now several of them are collaborating in a much more ambitious project than anybody would have dreamed of in 2002. When we have a universal library in the ‘computing cloud’ there will be not one, but many literary digital platforms. There will be a whole herd of digital literary elephants kicking around. There will be a lot of platforms to choose from, partly because there is a lot to be done and different ways of doing it. The second and immensely encouraging feature of this new consortium is that it is obviously condoned if not encouraged by Google. The members of the consortium are almost all working with Google and it is to be concluded that Google is keen to see ‘collaborator/competitors’ in the digital book space that Google has pioneered. Good for Google and good for all of us. The universal library will be open because there will be a herd of elephants. Google may be the dominant male, but not a monopoly …..

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