December 10, 2008
Google Adds Magazines to the Mix
I was commenting to a friend and fellow staff member at the DePaul Law Library about Google's announcement that it would include magazine articles in its book search results. Some of the magazine titles highlighted on the Google Official Blog include Ebony, Popular Science, New York Magazine, and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It is a given that Google will add to the archive and create a rich mixture of older and formerly inaccessible material as part of its presentation. Google is obviously working out arrangements with the copyright holders so this can happen. They did that with book publishers and (allegedly) everyone is happy with the arrangement.
In my conversation with my colleague I suggested that Google was doing to libraries what file sharing is doing to the music industry. It's not that libraries charge for access to books the way major labels charge customers for music. Libraries, however, have borne the cost of collecting vast quantities of information on behalf of the public, or the scholars, or any audience unique to a library. It sounds ennobling in a way when library systems such as the Universities of Texas, Michigan, California and others open the shelves to scanning resulting in easily available PDF versions of their collection. It does serve the common good.
But the question I have is whether Google extends these libraries or becomes a competitor to them? And with their blessing. If I can get a copy of a book online, I certainly don't need to travel to Ann Arbor or burden an interlibrary loan librarian in an attempt to acquire a title. Some individuals will always comment about the feeling of having a book in hand. They are quite useful information delivery vehicles. But that's another part of the question. If the information is the end result, won't the PDF be just as or more viable given the ease of download?
Google is different from other search engines in that it doesn't merely point someone to information on the web. It hosts content. That's different from others even though they host entertainment and multimedia. Microsoft decided it didn't want to be a library when it stopped its competing book scanning project. Yahoo never really got in the game. Google, apparently, wants to be a library, albeit one that serves ads along side of scholarship and pop culture. Even odder, it seems to want to be a library without coming out of the library profession.
The debate rages in professional circles whether the Internet will make libraries (or more urgently, librarians) obsolete. I don't think it will affect librarians the way it will affect libraries. As always, academic libraries will make collection development decisions with an eye as to what is available online. The growing "free through Google" collections will have an effect on those decisions. Librarians will stay in business as information agents. Sure you can get the information for free via the web, but finding it in a focused and efficient way will be the domain of librarians and the intellectually curious. I think libraries, though, may transition into something else once information transcends the delivery mechanism. Out of all the places on the Internet to push this transformation, Google will likely have the greatest impact. [MG]
December 10, 2008 | Permalink
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