Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Unique Perspective on Google's Library Project

Monday's New York Times included an interview with Sidney Verba, the director of the Harvard University Library. He is the man who is overseeing the Google Print Library Project (GPLP) at Harvard.

According to the article, Mr. Verba brings a unique perspective to the GPLP debate. He is the author of a number of books, was once the chairman of the board of Harvard University Press and is now heading the Harvard library. He's been a writer, a publisher, an educator and a librarian.

The controversy and lawsuits that followed the announcement of the GPLP surprised Verba who said, "'It's become much more controversial than I would have expected.'" Harvard has responded by confining "the scanning of its collections largely to books in the public domain and limit[ing] the initial scanning to about 40,000 volumes. But it hopes eventually to scan copyrighted books as well, depending on the outcome of the legal dispute."

Verba was able to shed light on some of the reasons why Harvard was interested in participating with the GPLP. Harvard students are turning to the Internet for research they once depended on libraries for. While Harvard has been aggressive in digitizing their libraries, Google's involvement saves them money and time. According to the Times, the University of Michigan estimated it would take 1,000 years to digitize that library's collection. Google expects to digitize Harvard in six years. Finally, Google has promised to make TWO copies of each library they digitize. The second copy will go to the library in question.

That second copy is of concern to the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against Google, but Verba insists that Harvard's copy "will be used only for archiving and preservation, in keeping with a research library's charter."

The article closes with Verba saying, "We think and hope it is legally the appropriate approach . . . but we're taking it day by day."

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