18 October 2007

PHM3: The Google Proposition - Challenging our Identity, Furthering Our Mission?

This one puts forward an interesting idea: What if Google (in all their wisdom and with all their millions) were to purchase a publishing house somewhere? And what if they were to provide that publisher's catalogue free of charge (as long as you don't mind a few ads) to anyone on the web? (which unfortunately does not yet mean anyone)

What if authors everywhere were to flock to this new movement in publishing? What if the entire publishing output of the world were to be retrospectively made available for free? Where would this leave libraries?

Well, folk have been running around predicting the end of The Library for years now: A dozen years ago the mass popularisation [is that a word? it is now] of the Internet really put the scare into a lot of folk.

Me, I'm excited. I didn't get into librarianship because of the cardigans and the hair in a bun (though they can be pretty sexy on the right person): What other occupation lets you provide free (or as near as) access to information for anyone that comes along? The concept of The Library is damn near Anarchic in nature (except of course of for corporate libraries, which hoard information for their owners) and suits my socio-politico beliefs quite nicely thank you.

Of course, the "Google as owner of world's publishing output" idea is also very scary: We'd be putting all our biblio-eggs in one basket. Sure, Google seems to have so far been one of the more responsible corporate entities out there, but they are still a corporation: Their main aim is still profit. If at some time in the future they have a change of heart, or if financial circumstances force them to sell their catalogue, or if any of a million things go wrong, what then for the world's bibliographic heritage?

What we would need would be diversity: Of formats, of sources, of repositories. Yes, even quaint old flattened leaves of dead wood. And all this information would not be free, though it might come close.

What we need to tackle is information as property, but I'll leave that for another post. Until then I'll keep the Black Rag flying.

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