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.