Saturday, October 3, 2009

Big Picture of Google Books & Libraries?

Books served on a platter
Someone saw my listserv post about Google Books and ILL and asked what I “see as the ‘big picture’ if/when Google books really becomes operational...” (Great question, what do you think? to anyone who actually reads this blog)
Listserv posting...
Hello Everyone,

Wondering or interested in the future of resource sharing and the Google Books subscription? i.e. does the Google Settlement that allows access to copyrighted works in Google Books under license allow for ILL rights?

My question is...
...for institutions that will subscribe to Google Books, shall we ask for ILL rights - like we have been able to achieve with many publishers. (I want to add a big thanks to the many publishers that allow ILL rights for electronic content – you are wonderful!) So, if you are wondering too, when I asked Google, they said...

“Hello Cyril,
Thank you for your question. To learn more about the Google Books settlement agreement, please go to Because the settlement is awaiting Court approval, we're limited in our ability to discuss it with you. However, you are encouraged to contact the Settlement Administrator or Class Counsel, whose contact information is on the settlement website, for further assistance.
Of course, if you have questions about the Google Books Partner Program, please don't hesitate to contact us.
Tom The Google Books Team

So everyone, if you are interested? Contact: A court decision on the terms is coming soon. As always, your work and voices make a huge difference.

Google Settlement Details: (it’s only 141 pages – great reading J)

Of particular note (highlight by me)…

Provided the ILL rights are there… We only need: unmediated requesting of this resource a priority and a wonderful LVIS (Libraries Very Interested in Sharing) library subscribe to it. “ Sent 9/25/09
You have some time to send the settlement administrators your thoughts; the settlement is undergoing revisions, so the Oct. 7th decision is delayed for a short while...

So, I shared some thoughts about the big picture recently at the NW Interlibrary Loan and Resource Sharing conference in Portland, and I am uncertain if anyone agreed, so here goes some thematic big picture thinking... (First a few more sips of coffee...)

Google & Amazon will agree on how to share the marketplace of book distribution. Google and Amazon will cooperate enough so their competition does not reduce their effective huge distribution system, and their distribution system will likely shape the future of reading; much like iTunes (& their listeners) have shaped listening and sharing music.

From that perspective the disruption for libraries is likely to have several major consequences, probably the most noticeable...

“1st one to weed wins” or “the gutting of American libraries”
I have used both in describing the possible impact of a Google Books subscription model coupled with a just-in-time reality that the out-of-print book selling market and the print-on-demand market are growing and reducing the cost and time of books to at or below the cost of storing and/or borrowing materials. Add to that the various library based digitization programs. The first to weed applies only if a library wants to avoid the tremendous responsibilities of last-copy retention, which is a critical and challenging concept for library consortia to grapple – much like coordinated collection development policy making.

Of course it’s about space – but service wins
While libraries continually wrestle with the right service and space, the radical transformation of academic libraries will more than likely be determined by new competencies; project management and digital project/scholarship services are two examples, and how new service is designed within narrow niche opportunities and grown to fit and foster the future of higher education; which focuses on more research funding and entrepreneurial programs. Print collections will remain integral to the building, albeit as a new balance of function and look & feel, with some interesting project and exhibit based collections. While we are all busy reducing the size of our print reference collection, saying that it is a result of digital reference collections obfuscates the weight of an 8 year old service - Wikipedia’s impact on the context of information finding by users has been tremendous. We adjust the print footprint to the changing environment.

Where is reading and writing headed?
Because the future of reading is one of the most powerful determinants to the future of libraries, it might make sense to look at how others are shaping that future. We know that in the quest for the perfect ebook reader familiar vendors (Sony, Amazon Kindle, etc.) have busily wrestled and gambled to win a significant market share, while maybe more unfamiliar to us, the mobile phone group GSM World collectively discuss strategies to make mobile phones the platform for content. While keeping an eye out for reading, you might as well watch writing as exciting convergence beyond paper annotations. A few project examples: Book Glutton:, Nines:, Princeton Dante Project:,

There has to be an end to this blog, so here goes... it’s the cooperation scalability question.

Much like Google & Amazon settling down on strategic sharing of the marketplace of book distribution, can higher education similarly transform its institutional relationships and cooperate in new long-term strategic ways that focus the transformation of learning? Our struggles – organize cooperative efforts quickly and scale those efforts in large networks. Rather than 50 digital scholarship silos, agreement to scale 2-3 would certainly leverage the real strength of our scholars in the quality and scalable discourse needed across the globe. Arxiv is one of my favorite examples of a successful story of developing a disciplinary based solution that crossed the institutional boundaries, a significant barrier of scale and coherence for most institutional repositories.

Back to Google Books and ILL, the rest of this story is practical and not very practically technical...

If a library obtains a Google Book subscription, let’s hope that library’s has the ILL rights to share them with other libraries. Yes, a new type of proxy (VPN like tunnel) of a Google Book digital object must be technically created, and a new discovery system for resource sharing must either be created or adapted into current systems. However, this 'streamlined-clunky' version of Google Books gives libraries an important opportunity to continue to share resources (at lower cost than shipping print), and ultimately matches Google’s responsibility to do no harm... to libraries and their communities, not to mention Google’s library partners. Potentially as interesting; open URL knowledge base vendors have an opportunity to enable even easier resource sharing of electronic articles and ebooks than traditional ILL request management, but that and the future of pay-per-view (as a just-in-time acquisition theme) is for another time and another blog.