Thursday, May 11, 2006

Google's Library Strategy

Why is Google courting libraries? Google has created a Librarian Center and is asking for stories on interesting ways librarians have used Google's tools. They intend to make a movie with librarians as stars and will premiere the flick at the ALA conference in New Orleans!

Google Book Search is partnering with five large libraries: The University of Michigan, Stanford, Harvard, Oxford, and the New York Public Library. The idea is to digitize books and make them available to all on the internet.

I suspect those 5 libraries have tons of books on their shelves that are in the public domain and are only available at their library or just a few others as well. And many of those books may not be available through ILL. They are inaccessible to anyone outside the immediate geographical location of the physical building. Digitizing books like that and loading them onto the internet is an enormous benefit to the public.

Apparently Google wants to be the first Web 2.0 company to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. If the Dalai Lama or the Pope were a company, it would be Google. Isn't that what we're being led to believe? Who else has been so kind to libraries and their users?

What is Google's perception of librarians:

a) Respected professionals
b) Valued partners
c) Hopeless mediocrities
d) Useful idiots

Some librarians are extremely wary of Google. Recently, a Google official spoke in front of a roomful of librarians about the digitization project. He assuaged (not sausaged) the fears of the librarians by stating:

"There's no way you can supplant a library with a search engine."

But Google is more than just a search engine. Google is also a web software company. They are a competitor of Microsoft. And they don't want to "supplant libraries" as they currently exist. I don't believe it's Google's intention to open "Google Libraries" around the country and take away users from our public and academic libraries. But as a profit-making company, they do covet sections of what are considered "library territory" for themselves.

Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

It's been the library's traditional role to organize information for the purpose of providing access to it. The overlap is the cause of library fears. But does Google know its own library endgame?

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