Librarians insist Google digital library not a threat
By Gus LÃ»Bin
Published on Thursday, January 13, 2005
When Jeff Horrell takes over as College librarian Feb. 7, he will be faced with a dynamic new threat to the physical library: the Google Digital Library.
Google is starting a massive project to digitally scan millions of books from libraries at the University of Michigan, Stanford, Harvard and Oxford, along with the New York Public Library. Already underway, the project allows users to find and read books online.
Google's online library, however, will include advertisements on the sides of pages, and only samples of copyrighted books will be available.
Although some librarians have expressed concern at the potential competition the service poses to traditional libraries, Acting College Librarian John Crane was generally excited about the service's potential.
"I think it has terrific possibilities, but a lot of that will turn on their search software," Crane said. "Once you get millions of books involved, it could become hard to find exactly what you want to find."
The book search engine currently works in conjunction with Google's web search engine. A search for "Romeo and Juliet" turns up a link to the 278-page play by William Shakespeare, as well as less literary-minded results that include Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.
The Google Print link offers page-by-page images of the book and links to places where the book can be purchased. Future versions may contain links to local libraries where the book can be checked out.
Andrew Herkovic, the director of foundation relations and strategic projects at Stanford University, was confident that the Google Digital Library and the Stanford library could work together to provide new research potential while staying true to the traditions of the library.
"A library provides selection, access, interpretation and archiving. Obviously an online library will excel in some of these while a physical library is better for others," Herkovic said.
For the past month, Google has borrowed sets of books from the Stanford library and taken them to their nearby headquarters to digitally scan. The current turnover rate is only several weeks, according to Herkovic, so the process will cause very little interference with the research demands of students and faculty. Google insists that digitally scanning books does not damage them.
Montreal-based equities firm Conscius Capital Partners told national news media that it estimates the cost of scanning an average book at roughly $10.
Amazon.com has also started work on a similar project to digitally scan the books in their collection. Since October 2003, customers can search for terms and read pages from many thousands of Amazon's popular books.
Rauner Special Collections Librarian Sarah Hartwell looks forward to the simplicity that online books will provide.
"I personally love finding full texts on the Internet, because it can save the day in a pinch," Hartwell said. "But will all these online books kill off the library? Will I lose my job? No -- people will always need librarians."