No longer at the lunch table

Y’know, when I showed up here for grad school, I would *totally* have counted Siva Vaidhyanathan as one of the people I’d really dig having lunch with. However, with every comment he makes on the Google partnership, I find the idea less and less appealing.

My biggest problem with Siva is as follows: He whines and moans about library-this and library-that, trying to make the case that Google should not be involved, because this is somehow robbing libraries of their god-given mission to digitize. However, reading his rhetoric, I cannot help sensing at every other word that the only work he has done in libraries was the research for his thesis and his books. That is, this man is not a librarian. And for that matter, I have my doubts about whether he is even friends with many librarians, though I am aware that many admire him.

The root of these doubts lies in my own personal, admittedly anecdotal experience. That is, the librarians I know all think the project is great. And furthermore, I can’t think of any who think that it is something that it would be *possible* for libraries to accomplish on their own (at least not in any remotely timely way). The librarians here at Michigan figured 1,000 years and a billion dollars. A THOUSAND YEARS. And being that this high level of digitization was, in fact, a pie-in-the-sky, wouldn’t-it-be-nice goal for the library already, how ridiculous would it have been to say, no, Google, we WON’T let you digitize our collection, saving us $1,000,000,000 and 990+ years? No, Google, DON’T allow us to spend that money on our outrageous subscription to Elsevier’s e-journals or twenty gajillion new books, and DON’T leave our staff free to pursue more urgent preservation projects. Obviously that would have been better. Thanks for clearing that up, Siva.

Do I think it would be fantastic and amazing if it was possible for libraries to command the funds to execute a project like this independent of major corporate interests? Absolutely! But posing that as a viable option creates an entirely false dichotomy. The choice is not “Google digitizes everything” or “Libraries digitize everything.” The choice is “Google digitizes everything” or “libraries digitize less than 1%.” Framing the situation in the former way is both misleading and disingenuous (to borrow Siva’s word). Siva is a very smart guy; he should know better.

But then, maybe that just brings me back to the point where I think he’s living in fantasyland when it comes to libraries.

Oh, and there was a reason I started ranting about this just now. Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, has been taking on Siva and his new friends in the publishing industry, really compellingly, here. I like Mr. Madison better and better with every post of his I read. He’s not all A+ Rah-Rah about the Google project; just well reasoned and interesting. Definitely worth checking out.

So, in sum: if my preferences were the stock market, Siva would be plummetting like a tech stock in the year 2000, while Mike Madison would be on a steady, mutual-fund type rise.

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5 thoughts on “No longer at the lunch table

  1. Wow. Harsh. Sorry you feel that way.

    I am surprised you doubt my library credentials, contacts, and experience. I have after all, been on the faculty of a major libary school. I have spoken at about a half-dozen ALA meetings. I think I have put my time in both understanding libraries and working for them.

    But even if my library cred were as slight as you suggest, I am a library user. Don’t users matter?

    Why do you think my position has anything to do with the publishers’ position? The publishers hate libraries’ digitization plans.

    Are you not fed up — as just about every librarian I know is — with the outsourcing of library functions to private corporations?

    Fortunately, neither Mike nor I have stock prices attached. We make arguments. People accept, reject, and revise them in good faith.

    I am pleased you have joined the conversation. I hope we can push it forward, regardless of my market capitalization.

  2. Regarding your library cred: fair enough, bad on me for not looking into it further. I knew you had participated in ALA conferences; I was at the last one. I had not realized you had been on the faculty at a library school — which one?I would also add that I still agree with you on many fronts; I believe many of the causes you have taken up are of vital importance to libraries and to the ways we access information in general. I just have serious disagreements with your perspective on this one. Ain’t democracy great?And to continue with your points, of course users matter. But users typically have less of a sense of the economic exigencies of the libraries they use than do those who work in them. Being a user can take you only so far in constructing informed opinions on how libraries should utilize their resources and form their policies. I sincerely doubt that the U of M, or any other library involved in the partnership, entered into this agreement lightly, without weighing all the pros and cons of corporate involvement.As for “the outsourcing of library functions to private corporations,” I really wonder if that is a productive way of framing things. Do you mean that we’d be better off if corporations didn’t take an interest in digitization or other kinds of information access? I can’t help thinking that the tremendous momentum surrounding book digitization right now (through the Open Content Alliance, the Harper Collins program, etc.) would hardly exist if Google hadn’t thrown its hefty hat into the ring. Visibility is a *good* thing for libraries and the wider mission of knowledge dissemination that they serve. If corporate involvement can help further that cause, I think it is at the very least worth consideration.

  3. Followed the link from Sivacracy. I don’t 100% agree with everything Siva writes, but I still think he’d be a good guy to go to lunch with. 😛 He really does know a LOT of librarians and talks to them regularly. He isn’t particularly friendly with the publisher perspective, either, though.

    Personally, I’m torn on the subject of Google’s digitization project. I’m not a librarian, but I’ve got my MLIS, I work at a library school, and I’m a doctoral student there as well (studying, among other things, copyright and its effects on the missions of cultural institutions). I’m also one of the ALA copyright scholars. I can say with complete certainty that the librarians that are members of the copyright scholar group and ALA’s own copyright committee, representing librarians from around the country, are not completely behind Google’s actions in this case. We’ve been pretty divided, actually. In that setting, I actually usually defend Google in that I believe their use should be fair- but I also think that there are downsides to the Google project as well. I’m glad that Siva at the very least brings some of these issues to our attention. I don’t completely agree with his fair use analysis, although I am familiar with the Tasini, MP3.com, and Arriba cases.

    From a copyright perspective, I think it would be great if Google’s use was considered fair use. I agree with part of your statement. Digitiziation is not an either/or proposition. If Google’s use is fair- well, that would just make it all the easier for other groups, including libraries, to take similar actions. Just because Google is doing it does not mean that libraries, or other interested parties, can’t also digitize. Google does have the resources to take action now, and most libraries certainly do not, but I don’t think that immediacy is necessarily a positive thing in this particular situation. It kind of depends on the end result, doesn’t it? Digitization for digitization’s sake isn’t necessarily good.

    That being said, I don’t think that what Google is doing is not necessarily good for libraries and information users. In the short term, I think it is. I agree that visibility is a good thing; my gut reaction to the project, when I first heard about Google Print a couple of years ago, was very positive. I think the ability to keyword search for particular books is great. I started having my doubts when I read the contract that Google worked out with the universities. I don’t know that it’s particularly good for users in those systems. I also think that “the choice is ‘Google digitizes everything’ or ‘libraries digitize less than 1%'” is just as much a false dichotomy as Google digitizes everything or libraries digitize everything. There are many ways that libraries or other institutions can participate, and there are better ways for Google or other for-profit institutions and libraries to work together. The contracts could be much better for the university libraries than the existing one with Google, I think. The libraries can’t do some things that would really make this project worthwhile, I believe, due to Google’s control of the digitized forms. I find this ironic, given that libraries that meet copyright law requirements actually do have more leeway to work with copyrighted materials than Google does.

    The benefits I see in this project are the general benefits of digitization- additional gains of use such as searching and indexing, and the potential of increased access to material. I agree with Cory Doctorow that it would be in the publisher’s best interest to work with Google. I don’t necessarily know that it’s in the users’ overall best interest. DRM and proprietary formats are problematic. I don’t automatically believe that big corporations are a bad thing, but I do believe that big corporations do not necessarily have the public’s best interests paramount. Nor do all libraries, either, but most public libraries do tend to have missions and mandates that reflect the public interest, while corporations tend not to. (I hope to be studying the missions and laws related to cultural institutions more when I start my dissertation.) When serving the public interest might harm a corporation financially, they may be very well obligated to act against the public interest. Libraries, museums, and archives often have legal mandates to act for the public, and are I think the public’s best advocates in these situations over the long term. On a somewhat related note, I don’t know how Google’s cataloging is- and I do not believe that keyword searches are a replacement for good cataloging, which is increasingly a view that I disturbingly find cropping up.

    I read Sivacracy and Madisonian.net pretty regularly. I don’t particularly agree with either one about this particular case all of the time, but I really respect what they have to say. I’ve been quoted on both of them briefly (“not a librarian after all” from Sivacracy, and Madisonian’s misunderstanding of my argument about making a fair use argument rather than a library exemption argument, which was my fault). The Google issue has been very interesting- it’s the first time that people I read and agree with regularly actually disagree with one another in some pretty strong terms.(On a complete side note, if you’re looking for a blog representing what I think is the author’s perspective, Scrivener’s Error is also an excellent one!) I’m glad that they’re engaged in the conversations that they are engaged in, though.

    Geez. So overall, I think Google’s use should be fair, but that libraries still have a responsibility to digitize as well, and are probably better stewards of information than Google is.

    Wow, this got long, sorry!

  4. The choice is not “Google digitizes everything” or “Libraries digitize everything.” The choice is “Google digitizes everything” or “libraries digitize less than 1%.”

    Actually, this false dichotomy is the problem. There are other choices. Such as, Google and libraries work in partnership to ensure that the digitization project meets the needs of Google as well as the needs of libraries. Because Google looks like the biggest winner here, and libraries aren’t getting much out of it.
    1) Google is not making archival quality scans; libraries will have to re-do everything google has scanned in order to meet our needs as archives for the future
    2) What is Google’s metadata? Are librarians involved in the creation and application of the metadata, with an eye towards creating a standard usable over different platforms? And, making it public? Because, you know, what Google creates here will become the de facto standard, and should be made as user-friendly as possible. And Google is know for being user-friendly in the pure consumer sense, is known for secrecy and changeability on the user-creator front.

    Just a couple thoughts off the top of my head. Ways in which a true Google-library partnership could have been better realized.

    And, Liz, I’m assuming you’re at Michigan (I just found your blog, from Siva’s post,a nd haven;t yet spent time lookign throgh it beyons this post). Just a thought (and please, I don’t mean this to be snarky). When one’s home gets caught up in a big exciting project that gets the name in the news and generates a lot of buzz, internal and external, there’s a certain indoctrinating effect (for lack of a better term not immediately coming to mind). I suspect that’s the case here, since very few librarians I know are excited about GBS. Some see potential, but most are very apprehensive and concerned. Except for my friend who works at Michigan….

  5. “Actually, this false dichotomy is the problem. There are other choices. Such as, Google and libraries work in partnership to ensure that the digitization project meets the needs of Google as well as the needs of libraries. Because Google looks like the biggest winner here, and libraries aren’t getting much out of it.”You’re right. I went a little too far in my rhetoric there, I admit that. It was a while ago, and in fact my opinion has evolved some since then. There are other options. There are many other options. However, I still think that the Google project has served as a catalyzing agent in getting people to discuss and push those options forward. Is the Google project the best possible instantiation of a digitization initiative? I think few would make that claim. But as some here at UM have pointed out to me, before the Google step was taken, the conversation among library consortia, etc. revolved around whether mass digitization itself was even worthwhile; now, the conversation has moved forward, to a consideration of the best ways to proceed. More succinctly, the question is no longer “whether,” but “how.” And whatever happens to the Google project, I think that shift is a positive step for libraries.Regarding your two points, on archival quality and metadata: first, I’m aware of Dan Clancy’s statements on the quality issue. But frankly, I have the impression that he was simply mistaken. Our librarians do spot-checks of the scans as we receive them, and have told me that they absolutely meet the standards for digital archiving. And in terms of metadata, Google is adding some; clearly, that’s a prerequisite for any kind of good search. And yes, our librarians have been talking with them about best processes on that sort of thing. There is also a more detailed listing of the standards (image, etc.) being used in the project on the Michigan Library’s FAQ (warning: it’s a PDF).And as far as my being at Michigan, yes, I’m the first to admit that I’ve probably been drinking my share of the Kool-Aid. But at the same time, that’s not totally irrational. Being at Michigan, I have been able to see more directly how Google is interacting with our librarians, and I can say that it is a much more two-way partnership than many commentators give it credit for being. I’m curious, Rudy, what libraries you’re in contact with. I’ve mostly talked with the folks at Michigan and Northwestern, and some people at the ALA (so, clearly not a representative sample, but also not entirely homogeneous).I appreciate your comments.

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