Friday, May 27, 2005

Contradictory Noises on Google's Library Efforts

It's awesome! It's dangerous! Sounds like this could be the lead-in for the next summer blockbuster film, but the rash of contradictory noises are all pointing towards Google's online efforts to integrate scholarly content into its search engines. The level of hostile noise notched up a bit this week as a letter from The Association of American University Presses sent to Google (PDF version) has been circulating in the press, with numerous covering articles ensuing. But as noted in several accounts (AP wire story for example), in spite of the hostile tone of the letter there are no plans afoot so far by the AAUP to sue Google - fueled in part, perhaps, by the fact that prominent members such as Harvard University are also active participants in the scanning project. In the letter's "16 points" that they request Google to address the gist is that the AAUP is concerned that the Google scanning effort is walking far over the line into collecting copyrighted materials unless publishers have specific objections. This seems to be somewhat in contradiction with public statements made by Google early on in the project, so it will be interesting to see what Google's response, if any, might be.

What's clear is that AAUP members have not been moving aggressively to address the use of their presses' output in digital form on many fronts. For example, reference desks at some universities are fairly liberal in managing access to digital works. At the same time other efforts at popularizing digital access to scholarly content are working successfully with Google to promote its use in a structured manner. This week Project Muse, a subscription-based service providing access to scholarly materials, has announced that it will be allowing Google access to its content for indexing. The AAUP move may have some sound points to clarify, but much of it seems to be a holding action to delay confronting the larger issue of how university presses can provide a transition for their revenue models to a new era in which electronic access via channels most convenient for their readers is a given and a necessary standard. It's not a bad idea to have Google clarify what they're doing with their business model in this area, but it's perhaps more important for AAUP members to spend less time rattling sabers and more to consider what they need to do with their own business models, which have their own lethargy as the primary threat.
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