Google Book Search and the misunderstood library project

It's not about free books for all

Google Book Search
Seemingly Book Search was only ever meant to be a search and discovery tool; not an open access library

Google Book Search has been around since 2004. In a helpful analysis published today on TeleRead, Chris Meadows sets out to debunk some common misconceptions about Google’s revolutionary attempt to scan the world’s orphaned books.

Almost since its launch in 2004, Google’s “library initiative” created waves. It was a plan to mass-scan millions of out-of-print books for whom no rights-owner could be found. These “orphaned” titles are not only out of print, but no-one knows who owns the copyright to them. For the most part they are stored in libraries, subject to the disasters, rationalisations and disintegrations of time.

As a bookseller, I always thought there’s one good reason why books go out of print — nobody much wants them. Or, rather, there’s not enough demand to warrant the costs and risks involved in a re-print. By that logic, the worth or usefulness of the output from this massive enterprise has to be quite thin.

But as a humanist, the project was incredibly exciting. Here is one of the world’s biggest companies using some serious loose change to preserve that body of work that never made it to classic status. There was probably a strategic, or directly commercial, rationale but the simple outcome was that a stupendously long, narrow-gauge tail of human knowledge and experience will some day be mined by scholars and the idly curious everywhere.

Read Chris’ article to learn more about Google Books.

Here’s a nice History of Google Books, from the horse’s mouth.

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