Friday, March 10, 2006

Scholarship and Libraries in Transition Conference, Part One

This is the first of three posts relating my observations on the Scholarship and Libraries in Transition Conference (better known as the Google Library Symposium) which was held in Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 10th and 11th, 2006. This post will have my remarks regarding the morning speakers on March 10th.

Please note that I am doing my best to report what the speakers said. However, quotes might be slightly different than what the speaker actually said due to the fact I had to write it down while the speaker went on talking. Feel free to post and correct me if you are being quoted here incorrectly.

Also note that there is a blog dedicated to this symposium at

Mary Sue Coleman, President of the University of Michigan, opened the symposium. She said that the idea of putting all of the University of Michigan books online was a long desired goal and that “We believed in this forever.” She also said though that the U of M believed in copyright laws and that “Students will not be reading Harry Potter online in their dorms.”

Barbara Allen, Director of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, talked about how researchers use online versus print resources. She noted as an example the use of an old set of economic journals that were used 692 times in print but over twelve thousand times online. She also invoked the image of the Great Library of Alexandria by saying that the Google library initiative could build the “greatest library the world has ever known.”

Michael Keller, University Librarian at Stanford University, talked about the financial reason that should encourage publishers to embrace the Google library initiative. He said, “The sale of books increases when there are book excerpts online. It is to the benefit of the publishers to digitize books.” He also called for librarians to “defend fair use as it lifts old books.”

Karin Wittenberg, University Librarian at the University of Virginia, noted that the cooperation of the publishers was not necessarily needed as that “mere digitization does not violate copyright.” She claimed that “Google digitization is one of the most important developments of my career. This will change everything.” She also said that she was “irked by the opposition of some librarians, publishers, and authors” to the Google endeavor.

One interesting comment came from a member of the audience who asked about dedigitization. What do we do with online only material? Will Wikipedia be available 1000 years from now? How about online only publications like blogs and some government documents? What if there is a disaster (or simply changing technology) that makes all this material inaccessible? Are libraries making print backups?

Finally, Tim O’Reilly (founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media), talked about the need to get publisher buy-in for the Google project. He said, “There is a need to give a financial incentive to encourage online publication because most people will not buy a physical book.” (To which I reply, have you not heard of Google Adsense? Slap the code on any page and Google does all the work of getting relevant advertisers. Content can and will generate cash without ever even printing a book.) He also talked about a neat project his company was doing called Rough Cuts which allowed subscribers to read a book as it was being written.

Further observations on the conference can be found at the links below. I will add the links when my posts are ready so if you see this right away they may lack a link.

Scholarship and Libraries in Transition Conference, Part Two
Scholarship and Libraries in Transition Conference, Part Three

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