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Mark Rosensweig on Google Print

Mark Rosensweig and I are on ALA Council together. Once in a while our planets align on an issue. I won’t say that I agree with Mark word for word on Google Print, but he has articulated some concerns percolating in the back of my head. (See also a brief note from Anil Dash.) The following email, originally posted on the ALA Member-Forum list, is reprinted with Mark’s permission.

From Reuters, today:

Google said it has no immediate plans to show ads on search results pages showing text from library books. It plans, however, to show links to booksellers and local libraries.

Google does place ads on Google Print results where it has advertising revenue share agreements with book publishers.

[Mark’s message begins here]

There is something absolutely mind-boggling about the ability of a single, for-profit company being able to shape, to radically re-direct, the future of a whole sphere of life. Even more so when it enlists the cooperation of the public stewards of that sphere in what amounts to a relinquishment of key elements of responsibility to a unabashedly profit-driven mega-corportation.

The “deal” that research libraries have struck, behind closed doors (in good corporate style) with Google threatens to erase the lines between commerce and the remaining public sphere of human thought and creativity as embodied in the collected and organized products of print culture and this arrangement makes their immense collections both a global prop for the colonization of some of the last nooks and crannys of human endeavor by the quest for profit and a monument to the inescapability of and seamless domination by the profit motive. In the end, which one can already see around the corner approaching with the ever-escalating speed of the circulation of capital, it will create a situation in which culture is entirely held hostage by commercial interests whose life-cycles are driven by motives and influences which have nothing to do with the past and present aims of libraries (aims which will be twisted to suit the omni-commercialization of digitized information access a la Google).

The ‘privacy’ implications of turning so much power over to a company, much remarked upon already, are only a small part of the overall impact of Google’s gee-whiz master plan through which the public will be sucked into the infinite room-of-mirrors of Google searches yielding tens of thousands of results through which one wend’s ones hapless, trance-like way through lead-ons, hotlinks and, almost certainly, advertising.

Shame on the leaders of these research libraries for hatching this in secret and springing it as a fait accompli on the community of concerned parties (most of the rest of us). How cosmically irresponsible!


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