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While reading up for my last post I found this article, which discusses Google's intent to manage %100 of the information in the world. Now, I'm sure that some people who read this post are going to think that this is about how evil Google is, but I do not intend that to be the main point of this post. As with my other post regarding Google, I simply want to bring all aspects of the situation to light to counter the heavy boosterism that seems to override issues regarding Google, especially in relation to libraries. It has been my understanding that the library was a place where people could go to get unbiased access to information on any subject, well, any legal subject, as outlined in a number of documents associated with libraries, such as the ALA Library Bill of Rights and the Intellectual Freedom Manual.
My problem with the mission of Google is twofold, one, their goal is similar to that of libraries, and while libraries routinely encounter shortages of funds, Google has not, which creates a situation where one endeavor may be seen as adequate, Google, enough that no libraries are really needed anymore. And two, Google is a for profit corporation beholden to it's shareholders, where libraries belong to the communities which they serve. How can we expect the same level of rights from a private company, who's driving force is the accumulation of profit and who's customer base is selected by people who have no personal connection with the community they serve, that we get from libraries?
You may ask, why does Google have to work in opposition to libraries? Have they not worked with libraries to expand the amount of information available today? Indeed they have. They have worked with the Harvard Libraries to digitize a great deal of information that was previously unavailable. Yet, this work has not been without controversy. Many authors have sued Google to protect their rights, and Google's presentation of the scanned materials is not access to the complete book, as many seem to think – it shows only a limited amount of information from the book, not the entire book.
Why is this a problem? some might ask. Well, when you read a book, do you just open it to the index, find the section with the word that you are looking for, and then just read the sentences surrounding that word? I would think that few people do this – I know that I don't. So how much information is really being made available, and how much advertising revenue is being gained by a Google? And how much of that revenue does the library get? How is it better to use this resource if only parts of each book are made available to those searching online for information when the entire work is available through the library? Sure, it may get to you faster, but does convenience really equate to quality? I think not, at least for me.
My primary fear is that the perception created by Google's efforts that information is readily available will result in a further perception by the general public, who do not fully understand the value added benefits of libraries and librarians, that libraries are deprecated, and that public support will falter, resulting in still further reductions in library funding. In addition, I fear that, with the added competition to libraries, the selection of materials will no longer be as unbiased, due to the economic pressure that commercial ventures like Google are susceptible to, resulting in a loss of free access to all information in favor of free access to popular information. The library offers more than books and magazines, more than a place to access the Internet. The library is a bastion of freedoms and rights, and we should always keep that in mind as a comparison to anyone offering similar functions so that we maintain a clear picture of what is and what is promised...