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Googling The Libraries

Monday, January 29th, 2007 at 09:54 by Sue Stewart

The argument about The Demise Of The Book rages, or waffles, on. It‚??s a subject close to my heart, though you could say that books have never done anything much for me, beyond providing me with the building blocks of my education, alternative worlds to explore and endless opinions to consider.

So I get worried every time I hear someone telling me that the book is dead. Especially as I haven‚??t even managed to publish one yet. (I suppose finishing one would be a start, but bear with me, gentle reader….)

In 2004 Google announced its aim of putting all of the world‚??s books online and it made a lot of people nervous. Many decried the potential loss of the tactile experience: of the picking up, opening, stroking and even smelling a proper book with proper pages and proper print.

Others prophesied the loss of proper writing, because eventually we‚??d all be reading onscreen and it would lead to a radical change in writing style. (To some extent that has happened, but I‚??m not sure it‚??s a bad thing. If you‚??ve ever tried reading Samuel Richardson‚??s ‚??Clarissa‚?? you know that changing style is what writing is all about and in any case, the argument really only applies to books written for the screen, not paper books transferred to screen.)

Still others panicked about the potential threat to intellectual property. If everyone can look at everyone else‚??s work online, what‚??s to stop them stealing ideas? (Don‚??t mention Dan Brown….)

This, I think, is near the real issue. The issue of property. And consequently, of royalties. If all of the books are available to all of the people all of the time, erm - who‚??s going to pay for them?

Last week, the New York Public Library hosted a conference called ‚??Unbound‚?? and brought this whole issue back into focus - because the NYPL is one of 5 libraries that have agreed to let Google scan all their books. By doing that, Google effectively side-step agreements made with individual publishers attempting to protect themselves and their writers‚?? copyrights.

I can‚??t help wondering, though - why does no-one kick up the same fuss about the libraries? Libraries have always held within-copyright books, available to all of us, without a fee. You can go in to the library to read them or, if you take a few minutes to become a member, you can take them away and read them. You can copy or even photocopy them if you want. You shouldn‚??t use their contents without giving credit but many people do.

I know that I‚??m devil‚??s advocate against my potential future self here, because my potential royalties are under threat, too (‚??scuse me, I‚??m just spluttering). It may be a question of scale, or maybe libraries contribute to some kind of publishers‚?? fund that I don‚??t know about - but is it only me who sees a double standard here?

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One Comment on “Googling The Libraries”

  1. Rhys Wilcox Says:

    Authors get money from books taken out from libraries through the PLR. It’s something like 1p a lend.

    I don’t think you’re allowed to photocopy books in th elibabrary. Or, at least, not the whole book.

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