Why is the Library of Congress not more involved in discussions of Google Book Search and the impending Settlement? Google searching finds virtually no evidence that LC has had any voice at all in the recent flurry of talk on this. For example, these Google web searches pull up only incidental connections: < “library of congress” “google book” > < billington “google book” > < “library of congress” google settlement > (The main connection found here is a panel discussion of the Settlement that was held at LC in April, but none of the panelists were from LC.)

As the “de facto national library” of the US and “the largest library in the world,” wouldn’t it seem logical that LC be involved in thinking about GBS and the Settlement, which some say will change the way we read more than anything since the printing press?

I’ve been thinking about this idea for several months, but especially after writing an article in May on the apparently woeful state of Information Technology Strategic Planning at LC, as stated in a report by LC’s  Inspector General. Could there be a connection? Is this apparent lack of vision related to LC’s non-engagement with the momentous issues of the Settlement?

I was glad to discover, in doing research for this article, that someone else is thinking at least a bit along the same lines — Peter Eckersly, at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, suggested recently that Google put a copy of all books they scan at the Library of Congress — A fairly modest proposal, but maybe it will at least have the effect of bringing the Library of Congress at long last into the spotlight.

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumsey

2 thoughts on “Google Book Search & the Library of Congress

  1. Mary Beth Peters spoken publicly about the Settlement at Columbia in early March. The video is available on line.

  2. Thank you very much Mary, for pointing me in the direction of the video of Marybeth Peters’ talk at the Columbia Settlement meeting in March. This is helpful, and does clarify, that, indeed, the Library of Congress has had more of a voice in talking about the Settlement than I realized. So, I stand corrected. Murrell is correct to point out that Peters, as the Register of Copyrights, is the prime authority at the Library of Congress on copyright issues, so she is the voice of LC on Settlement issues.

    It’s too bad that Peters’ talk has not been made more accessible, in particular, that a transcript has not been made available. There is a fairly brief summary of Peters’ talk and link to the video in an article by Anita Bartholomew. Bartholomew does a good job of reporting Peters’ main point, which is that the legislative branch (Congress) needs to be involved in the issues of the Settlement, instead of leaving it to the judiciary. She says the “class action” that’s used in the Settlement has normally only been used for settling past conflicts, not for issues that will continue to have wide implications in the future. For the most part, then, I will not try to give a complete summary of Peters’ talk on the video. But there is an interesting section at the beginning of her talk that is not recorded by Bartholomew that I think is important, in which Peters reports the history of Google’s communication with the Library of Congress about the Google library project. I’ll quote my transcription of Peters’ words on this:

    “Google came to the Library of Congress and said we want to digitize all your books, and there was a lot interest on the part of the Library of Congress because you’d get a digital copy back. And then someone said, maybe we should ask Marybeth the copyright question, at which point I said, well, if they do public domain works it’s ok, but I’m very uncomfortable with systematically copying every book that’s in our collection … and I can’t see that as fair use so I have to tell you NO … The agreement was actually started at the Library of Congress, and the mission agreement was sort of from the Library of Congress.”

    The most interesting thing in what Peters says here is that Google apparently approached LC about their book-scanning ideas before they talked to other partner libraries, presumably before the launch of Google Print in Dec 2004. How different the situation might be today if LC had taken Google up on the idea! Would Google be scanning books mainly at LC, instead of at a variety of other libraries?

    On the video, Peters’ talk is the first one, following ca 7 min of introduction. Peters talks for ca 17 min, followed by ca 8 min of questions.

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