If you’re a Google Scholar user like I am, I bet you’ve noticed not only the increased number of search results that link to Google Books, but also the expanded content offered within the Google Books environment. This post will fill you in on the what, why. and whoops of Google’s eBook adventure. Even better, the embedded document at the end of this post demonstrates the power of digital documentation to enhance online reading and research.
On October 18th, 2005, Eric Schmidt asked readers in his The Wall Street Journal op-ed to “imagine one giant electronic card catalog that makes all the world’s books discoverable with just a few keystrokes by anyone, anywhere, anytime.”
The project, started in 2002 under the moniker Google Print, since became Google Books. Its mission: “To improve access to the cultural and educational treasures” known as books.
Cut to six years later. Google Books is now the largest eBook collection in the world hosting more than three million titles, and claiming to have scanned over 15 million. The project spawned a sister entity (Google eBookstore) which offers hundreds of thousands of ebooks for sale.
Google Books made researching and finding useful books much easier, and this should have been good news for everyone. The benefits to readers and researchers are tremendous, and many publishers too realized that Google’s book search promoted sales. Now people could find their books and be directed to where those books could be bought.
The Authors Guild, however, claimed Google Books violated copyright laws, and Google Books got mired in a fair use argument. It seemed heroic that Google would take on the mantle of cultural progress based on technological affordance. After all, the original intent and purpose of copyright law was to increase the spread of knowledge.
But on March 22, Judge Chin, citing antitrust concerns and the need for Congressional action on the issue, rejected a settlement that would have put millions more volumes online.
Oh well. This does not mean Google Books has gone away, but simply that the fulfillment of its mission is stalled. Even though the project has not reached its full potential, the benefits of Google Books are readily evident. Judge Chin’s ruling saw it too.
Libraries, schools, researchers, and disadvantaged populations will gain access to far more books. Digitization will facilitate the conversion of books to Braille and audio formats, increasing access for individuals with disabilities… Older books—particularly out-of-print books, many of which are falling apart buried in library stacks—will be preserved and given new life.
But, because of technology, you don’t need me to excerpt quotes. Open the digitized document below and read for yourself: