internet librarian: the googlebrary


Tonight's panel is moderated by Stephen Abrams, with a number of library pundits and Adam Smith from Google Print. Before the presentation even begins, a young man circulates around the room handing out a glossy sheet with the Google logo at the top entitled "The Facts About Google Print." Gotta love their ability to spin things. It's not an "FAQ," it's not "information"--it's Facts.

I've spent a lot of time over the past few days talking with librarians who are openly enthusiastic about Google's digitization project--not because they love Google, but because they desperately want this information in searchable form. This evening at the speaker's reception, someone said to me "the only question is when this will happen." I looked at him in surprise, and responded that I thought that an equally important question was "who."

So, the panel's about to start...and the first thing I notice is that I seem to have been transported into a web 2.0 panel: all white men, all the time. The only difference is that all of these men are over 40. <sigh> I don't mean to denigrate any of the panel members--they're all smart, accomplished guys. Rich Wiggins from MSU, Steve Arnold from Arnold Info Systems, Roy Tennant from Cal Dig Lib, Mark Sandler of Univ Mich, and Adam Smith from Google Print.

Oh...wait! Barbara Quint, editor of Searcher Magazine, is here, virtually (via speaker phone). A truly invisible woman in this case.

Stephen Abrams is a great moderator--energetic, funny, engaging. Notes that Google's under fire from publishers and authors, and now the threat of congressional hearings. "I'm sorry, I'm from Canada. We think your congressional hearings are great entertainment."

Starts with Adam. "I'm Adam, I'm from Google, and I'm here to give you the TRUTH about Google, and dispel the misinformation that's out there about Google." (Heh..."I'm from the government Google and I'm here to help you.")

"We're doing this out of necessity, not desire." (They're hitting this line hard in a lot of contexts these days; I rather liked Nicholas Carr's comment on this approach last week.)

Shows the three "user experiences" they intend: the publisher program, public domain books, and copyrighted books. The last is the one that's most contentious. Smith says: "This is allowed under fair use." Huh. Judge and jury, case closed? If it were that clear cut, would there be this much controversy surrounding it? While they may well be right, to present opinion as fact is troubling.

Abrams takes over again, and says that we're going to move fifteen years into the future. We've built the megalibrary, and we're looking back: what did we do right? Or...what did we do wrong? How did we get here?

Rich Wiggins starts out. He appears to have fallen under the Google spell... "Looking back, the leading search engine company, worth billions, has digitized the world's culture." A truly utopian vision. (I like Rich, and he'll probably read this, so I'll apologize in advance--Rich, I'm criticizing the ideas and tone, not the person. :)

Roy Tennant totally takes the other end: Google is bankrupt due to mismanagement, and the rest of the world has figured out how to do digitization well. (Adam, he says, has cleverly cashed out in 2009.) The MARC format is dead, libraries have discovered that systems don't integrate well, and have come to grips with how to change them. I like this Utopian vision a lot better than the last one! (He and Rich are debating tomorrow morning; I'll definitely have to attend that keynote!)

Mark Sandler: In 2020, Internet Librarian has become the Librarian conference; ALA in turn has become the American Print Library Assn. (Much laughter...) Google may or may not be there--he doesn't know what the life span of a 7-year-old multi-billion dollar company is. But in Billings MT and Berea KY there are now libraries with 50 million, 100 million volumes available to their readers (from the speakerphone, Barbara's voice cries "Yes! Yes!").

Barbara looks back from 2020 to 2006, when Google launched "Google Press" (I can't make sense of what she's saying--the voice cuts in and out...) Five years later, it is renamed the "Google Full Court Press." (wish I could hear all of this)

Steve talks about his book, "The Google Legacy." Says he's the only person in the room whom Sergey Brin has said is stupid. (Anybody have the cite to that? I couldn't find it in a quick search...) He says he's not interested in Google Print or Google Scholar, he's more interested in GoogleBase, which allows Google to become world's largest publisher of scientific information. Abrams asks him to explain GoogleBase, and he responds: "I'm not explaining Google Base. It's not my job. Sergey thinks I'm stupid, and we have someone here from Google that Sergey thinks is smart. Let him explain it." Heh.

He makes a critical point here, though. Microsoft's products don't delight. Google's products do delight. (Quick round of Microsoft bashing ensues, during which I'm glad I'm not on stage. :)

Adam gets to have his futuring moment. Says 2006 was a turning point year, where "we all worked together to do the right thing." We freed ourselves from the worries of digitization and formats. In 2020 everyone is an author, everyone is a publisher, everyone is an archivist, everyone is involved in the creative process. (He should read danah's post from nearly two years ago... "Consumption and production are fundamentally different and there are different forms of pressure when engaging with either. There is no way that one can possibly say that the threshold for consumption is equivalent to the threshold for production.")

(Roy suggests a round of Kumbaya at this point. I nearly fall off my chair. You go, Roy!)

Stephen asks "what will happen to the librarians in 2020?"

Mark says that some of them will be gone. Why would we need "local providers" when they have the WalMart of libraries? (He says this with a straight least Roy seems to raise his eyebrows.) Local libraries are going to have to change their mission. It has to be about access, about pampering users and adding real value to their lives. They're going to be like "cosmetic counters". WTF?!? Apparently he's serious here--he keeps going on this tack, as I become increasingly astonished.

Barbara weighs in over her spotty audio feed. (I have to ask...why are they using a telephone line run through the sound system rather than a high-quality IP solution with a direct audio line out of the computer? Skype gives far better quality than what we're hearing.) She says readers are more tightly connected to their readers, authors are building books out of Google's content. Book prices are dropping, open access keeps increasing. Librarians are helping to discriminate between good, bad, lousy and lousier materials. "when everything is digital, you're paying people to help you not read bad stuff." Librarians become censors. (Why the choice of that extraordinarily loaded word rather than the less judgmental and polarizing term "filters"?)

Roy says he wants to jump into this "digital lovefest." Digital won't make print go away--it never will. Putting digital materials online increases book circulation. Libraries have never been just about "stuff." They're about service. That doesn't change when collections are digital. (Yay!)

Rich says the cloudy part of the crystal ball is about how we'll be accessing this information. Display technology will change a lot about how we access things. If we have "e-paper" widely available by 2020, it changes this discussion.

Steve says everyone in this room needs to wake up the associations and get them more engaged in the role of the library as an institution. Unless that happens, we'll have a repeat of what happened in Salinas, where the library was shut down. This is a job for everyone here to carry back to the associations and be militant about it, so we don't become marginalized. Also, the library is an institution about learning and information, not limited to a type of material. It is a manifestation of how to organize and access information, whether it works with digital or print artifacts. Having said that, he thinks there will be a "pushing down" of librarianship into some institutions (like schools), and a pushing up into businesses--but the pain will be in the middle. That's where the impact of Google will be.

Abrams breaks in, and says Adam is an "immigrant" into the world of libraries. What does Adam think?

Adam responds by saying that just because everything is digital doesn't mean everything is good. (Um, yeah. This isn't news to anyone in this room.) Editorial control will still be relevant and important. How do we communicate what's good, when everyone's "good" is a little different. Hopefully the "truly good" will rise to the top.

Stephen points out that Google has two new patents for determining the "quality" of information. Asks Adam what the impact of that will be on libraries. Smith doesn't seem to really answer the question directly.

Audience questioner takes the room to task about the fact that we're taking this very lightly; also points out that many of the panel members have a vested interest in Google's success in this space. Barbara responds (again nearly unintelligible, but seems to be focused on serials).

Librarian from a small library says that his life isn't long enough to read what they already have, let alone adding so much more. How do we evaluate all that information? (I'd like to see more discussion of collaborative filtering here...) Mark responds that as a collection dev officer, they try to buy "all but the very worst books." Says in research libraries they've always operated on the "long tail" model--you can't anticipate what researchers might want, so you collect broadly to try to cover all the bases. Maintaining that physical collection is tremendously difficult, and makes it harder and harder to move forward.

An audience member asks about preservation...Adams quite appropriately points to the work being done by academic researchers in this area.

A couple of questions about digital rights management. One commenter says Michigan's agreement with google is quite impressive in this regard. (I'm starting to feel a little bad for him; the audience wants him to answer all of their questions about what they think is wrong with Google, and of course that's not fair for him.

I ask about the fear of a single source--Steve responds that there will be at least three companies that will do this, that the market will force this to happen. Google will be one, obviously. Yahoo is looking at this as well. MSFT will probably be in that space. There will not be a single source, no matter how hard anyone tries. That will be emergent--the market will accomplish that. (Barbara says we have three: open content alliance with Yahoo and whoever else joins, and Amazon, and Google.) Steve disagrees--he believes there will be three, and the only one we know for sure at this point is Google. Barbara responds that right now we do have three--digitization is coming from three players, not one. Roy points out that Yahoo is only one of many players in OCA.

And then, as if on cue...

Big Announcement The Open Content Alliance tonight had an official inaugural event in San Francisco--and at the reception it was announced that Microsoft is joining the alliance, and is funding the digitization of 150K books over the next year. Microsoft's contribution will be known as MSN Book Search.

Smith's response: Google absolutely welcomes Microsoft's participation in OCA, because it's all about making the world a better place.

Some discussion about what will happen to the physical artifacts? Who will take responsibility for ensuring that the books themselves continue to exist? Will they be lost in the digital shuffle?

Roy: Librarians still have a lot to learn about Google. And Google still has a lot to learn about libraries. (he gets some applause on this)

[Oy. I'm tired. There are other things being said, but I'm no longer able to listen and process and type. Sorry.]


Besides being married to a school librarian I've talked to a good number of them over the last couple of years. Everyone of them seems to believe their job is not about books but about information. People pay too much attention to the academic librarians (by that I mean the ones who talk about librarians rather than practice as a librarian) and not enough time talking to librarians who help people find information on a day to day basis.
My wife loves the idea of being able to search books online. But as one who knows something about copyright because she has to deal with people who want to violate it she doesn't understand how a reasonable person could believe that what Google is doing could be fair use.
Lastly, judging by how bad most people are at using simple online card catalogues, to say nothing of how poorly most people use search engines, I can see a long and productive future for librarians. They know how to find things.

"the first thing I notice is that I seem to have been transported into a web 2.0 panel: all white men, all the time."

Liz, this is a quote for the ages! How unfortunately, hilariously true.
Thanks so much for blogging all these conference panels, it's beena wonderful set of posts so far. Almost (almost) as good as being there.

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on October 25, 2005 9:47 PM.

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