Excerpts from Peter Brantley’s eloquent words on the Google Book settlement, in A fire on the plain (bold added).

With recent back and forth over the proposed Google Book Search settlement (e.g., Robert Darnton’s essay in The New York Review of Books; Tim O’Reilly’s response; and James Grimmelman’s litany of proposed corrections predating both at The Labortorium), I’ve been cast again into thinking about aspects of the agreement.

It is difficult to credit that frustrating access is ever able to delay or stem fundamental social trends – for example, the increasing importance of visual and interactive media. … Or the possibility that searching and reading networked books for anyone under the age of 40 might be an inherently social activity that generally increases enthusiasm for all forms of reading.

Let us consider a far more basic, more fundamental concern: the proposed Google Book Search settlement is embedded in a set of conceptions about books, reading, and information access which is as profoundly obsolescent as the printed Encyclopedia.

This is a world where young children carry around in the palm of their hands gaming consoles that have more networked computing capacity than a moderately powerful Sun workstation of five years back. Where increasingly I think about printed books with as much fondness as large cinder blocks, …  And yet authors and publishers worry that a fair level of access to digitized books … might reduce their profits. Truly, this should not be their worry. Their eyes remain cast on a horizon which has fallen from the earth, while a new sun is rising.

The settlement describes a world of time past, not a world of possibilities. Can we not imagine a redrafting of the settlement’s terms with libraries? … let us envision an alternative world where children routinely carry Alexandria in their hands. Where they experience works of literature as games, pushing at the borders of their knowledge and experience by engaging the library with others as a festschrift.

The people served by our libraries – let them show us how to re-make literature in a world where it fits in the circle of many hands, caressed by fingers, shared between minds. Libraries are laboratories for the future of reading, and with this, we have the key to it. … We stride into a world where books are narratives in long winding rivers; drops of thought misting from the sundering thrust of great waterfalls; and seas from which all rivers and rain coalesce, and which carry our sails to continents not yet imagined.

[concluding paragraph] Digital books are sparkles of magic untapped. The settlement proposes a bold path from darkness. But it is a trail that circles back to an old forest, abandoned. Our people have left, ventured onto a flat savannah, strewn with rocks, thorny shrubs, windblown trees, beasts. We can see it all now. And we are starting fires, with wood from fallen trees. Burning down the forest.

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Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

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