April 3, 2011

Nixing the Google Library

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ABOUT A WEEK AGO, federal Judge Denny Chin rejected a $125 million legal settlement between Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, which sought to authorize Google to digitize every book ever published.While there is a lot to like about Google’s ambitious plan — which one advisor to the Cornell Library called “a dream … a digital library of Alexandria” — Judge Chin was right to rule that a single company should not have a monopoly on all digitized books.We are increasingly moving toward an entirely digital age, the shift no more evident anywhere than on college campuses and in academic settings. Students are increasingly finding information for classes online. And professors often assign work that requires research on websites and in academic journals available online, simply because they acknowledge that it is easier than requiring students to find and read physical books on the subject.A digital library that enables students and faculty to scan through every book ever published and then search within each book for specific topics — as Google Books allows for now — could do wonders for academic learning. Students would be able to draw from an infinite supply of knowledge at the click of a button, and search through entire books for a keyword with ease.Yet as important as this project could be to academia, it has to be done the right way. Allowing Google Books to monopolize the online book industry would ultimately undermine the product. If Google is the only game in town, it will be able to exclusively dictate what the world’s online library will look like and cost. It is in the interest of consumers and the world’s publishing industry — beyond just those in the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers — to find a new, more equitable approach. A universal library has unlimited potential, but not if one person holds the strings.