February 25, 2018

Google Print for Libraries: the Bold and the Cautious

By LJ Staff

There may be five libraries involved in Google’s library digitization plans, but one thing was clear at a session Monday describing those plans: when it comes to ambition, look first at the University of Michigan, then Stanford and Oxford universities, and then Harvard University and the New York Public Library (NYPL). Google product manager Adam Smith led off the panel discussion at the American Library Association annual conference in Chicago, declaring Google’s aim to "create a comprehensive, searchable virtual card catalog of all books in all languages, while respecting copyright." However, the meat of the program came from presentations that showed Google’s partners have different visions. Michigan aims to get seven million volumes digitized, Oxford’s Bodleian Library up to 1.5 milllion, Stanford "as many as possible," Harvard 40,000 volumes, and NYPL 10,000 volumes.

"This is not an exclusive arrangement," declared Catherine Tierney, Stanford’s associate university librarian for technical services. "They’re not going to digitize all. They’re going to digitize what we give them. This does not preclude deals with others." As for Harvard, "it’s a very conservative organization," said Dale Flecker, associate director for systems and planning at the university library. The pilot project will allow the library to look at a range of issues regarding digitization. Flecker said the Google project "is not planned as a preservation project," but Michigan associate university librarian John Price Wilkin said the opposite: "We do think of it as a preservation project. The Google staff are more tentative in handling materials than our preservation and conservation staff." Michigan’s staff will digitize materials Google feels are too fragile to scan. Panelists even differed on the ultimate meaning of the project. Said Flecker, "We’re not trying to build a digital library. We’re trying to add digital stuff to our library." But Wilkin dreams bigger: "I think this will subsume all other efforts [to build a digital library]. It will be the foundation point–we’ll use the same infrastructure and build out."