For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
November 24, 2005 - Google Squares off Against Publishers
Just last week, the annual conference of the Colorado Association of Libraries brought over a thousand attendees to the Marriott Hotel at the Denver Tech Center.
I had the pleasure of participating in a "reactor panel" -- commenting on a keynote address by Pat Schroeder. Schroeder, former Colorado Congresswoman for some 24 years, is now the President of the Association of American Publishers.
Schroeder isn't too happy with librarians these days. How come?
Because Google has announced plans to scan and digitize the book collections of five big American libraries. And Google didn't talk to the publishers first.
Three of the libraries -- Stanford University, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan -- are digitizing everything they've got. Oxford University and the New York Public Library are also participating -- but are offering only those works already in the public domain.
What do libraries get? A free, digitized copy of every item. Ordinarily, that would cost millions.
What does Google get? In exchange for offering "snippets" from the scanned materials, available through typical Google searches, they'll make millions from their usual ads and sponsored links.
What do publishers get? Right now, nothing. Schroeder's stand is that Google has snookered everybody. In her view, the publishers made the content, and Google swiped it.
I disagreed with her: authors make the content. Publishers, at least in our current model, are the distributors of content, for which they take the bulk of the profits.
And just lately, it seems to me that publishers are getting a little greedy about copyrights. Publishers allow things to fall out of print, but then do not allow them to pass into the public domain.
Now they want a slice of the pie when somebody figures out a way to make these works more broadly available to the public. At the same time, publishing conglomerates are trying to extend the range of copyrights long past the death of the author.
How did libraries get in the middle of this? Well, library catalogs have been enriching their content for years. Once we just offered basic descriptions of a title, first on paper, then computer screen.
Now we show an image of the book jacket, include reviews and plot summaries, display sample chapters, and sometimes even offer detailed indexes.
Now, some of us offer the whole book online.
But I still haven't met any one who has actually read a whole book this way.
Neither Google, nor our catalogs, will lead to wholesale theft. Instead, they push people TO the book. We promote it, even when the publisher has utterly forgotten it.
There's another reason libraries are interested in this project. Sometimes, we are hit by disasters. There was the 1997 flood in Fort Collins that washed away whole floors of the CSU library. Katrina swamped many libraries in New Orleans.
Until digitization, there was no practical way for libraries to make a backup copy of one of their most important assets. Now there is.
Yes, Google will make a lot of money from brokering this access. Yes, publishers will have to scramble to find a new business model.
And yes, Google is also competing with some traditional library services. We have to look to our own business plans.
In part, that means that we need to ensure that not ONLY Google provides access to full text. We need other tools that do not assess fees, or subject the public to an endless stream of advertising.
It is fair and good that both author and distributor should receive compensation for their labor. But not in perpetuity.
Ultimately, these works make up the heritage of the whole human race. They need to be findable.
And they want to be free.