Friday, June 24, 2005

Google Print: Indexing vs. Copying and the Future of Scholarly Books

Finding authoritative information sources has always been a major challenge for searchers and researchers. The commercial search services were born over 30 years ago to answer this need, and while the technology has steadily improved, obstacles to finding those sources still remain. In a thoughtful post to the liblist-l at Yale University, Chuck Hamaker, a librarian at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, expresses his concern that book content is not as visible to students and scholars as articles, primarily because journal articles are indexed widely, have the context of snippits and are available full text in electronic format through some service. By contrast, books remain stuck in print silos, with the exception of some emerging book databases such as ebrary and safari. As Hamaker observes, "Massive indexing of monographs which is what I see Google Print actually doing, is critical for survival--the survival as usable text, of the book, to keep it from becoming nothing more than an interesting artifact of civilization."

The current controversy between the Association of Academic Publishers (AAP) and Google Print focuses on legal definitions of copyright, which were developed long before the electronic age. The value of indexing and assisting the scholar in in finding knowledge has been ignored. As an adjunct faculty member teaching online searching as a distance learning class at SJSU School of Library and Information Science, I introduce my students to a wide variety of electronic sources, particularly full text, since they have only virtual access to a library. But those sources do not include scholarly "books" because they are not indexed either by traditional classifications systems or full text.

Journal publishers found that indexing, particularly in Google Scholar, has increased usage of their journals and improved their electronic revenues. By contrast, scholarly books have abysmally low actual usage by library patrons, hence the question of the value of continuing to spend scarce budget resources on this type of material. Improving usage should be the major concern of book publishers, not throwing up roadblocks to wider access; it's time to think marketing and moving into the twenty-first century.
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