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Scanning the Horizon of Books and Libraries

Posted on Sep 29, 2009

By Amy Goodman

A battle is raging over the future of books in the digital age and the role that libraries will play. One case now before a U.S. federal court may, some say, grant a practical monopoly on recorded human knowledge to global Internet search giant Google. The complex case has attracted opposition from hundreds of individuals and groups from around the planet.

Google announced in 2004 its plan to digitize millions of books and make them available online. Books in the public domain would be made freely available. Newer books, published since 1923 and for which copyright still exists, would still be online, but viewable only in what Google called “snippets.” Two groups, The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, sued, alleging copyright violations. In October 2008, the groups and Google announced a settlement to the lawsuits, dubbed the “Google Book Settlement” (GBS). Google would pay $125 million and create the Books Rights Registry, a new organization that would direct funds from the settlement, and future revenue from book sales, to the copyright holders. Google would be empowered to not only display works, but also to become a massive, online electronic bookstore.

The settlement grants Google, automatically, permission to scan, display and sell books that are still in copyright but are deemed “out of print,” and for which the copyright holder cannot be easily found. These are referred to as “orphan works.” The status of orphan works has been the subject of much debate, and legislation has been proposed to make orphan works more available to the public. The GBS gives Google, and only Google, the legal right to digitize and sell these works.

UC Berkeley Law professor Pamela Samuelson wrote recently, “The Google Book Search settlement will be, if approved, the most significant book industry development in the modern era ... [and] will transform the future of the book industry and of public access to the cultural heritage of mankind embodied in books.”

Brewster Kahle co-founded the Internet Archive, a digital library aspiring to provide “universal access to human knowledge.” It houses 150 billion Web pages, 200,000 movies, 400,000 audio recordings and more than 1.6 million texts. Kahle opposes the GBS. Google scans large library holdings and returns to each library digital versions viewable only on a limited number of computer terminals that Google provides.


Square, Site wide

I asked Kahle how he sees the future of libraries. “Libraries as a physical place to go, I think will continue,” he said. “But if this trend continues, if we let Google make a monopoly here, then what libraries are in terms of repositories of books, places that buy books, own them, be a guardian of them, will cease to exist. Libraries, going forward, may just be subscribers to a few monopoly corporations’ databases.” Kahle’s version of the digital library, which he and others are building collaboratively, is open and shareable, without strings attached as with Google’s deal. Kahle co-founded the Open Book Alliance, which filed an opposition to the GBS, equating the settlement with oil price-fixing schemes set up by railroad barons and John Rockefeller’s Standard Oil in the 1870s.

After Judge Denny Chin, who is presiding over the case, called for public comment, opposition began flooding in from around the globe, from sources ranging from the governments of France and Germany to scores of publishers and authors and artists including folk singer Arlo Guthrie and author Julia Wright, daughter of Richard Wright, who wrote the classics “Black Boy” and “Native Son.” Marybeth Peters, head of the U.S. Copyright Office, called it an “end run around legislative process and prerogatives.” Judge Chin proposed a “fairness hearing” for Oct. 7 to decide on the Google Book Settlement.

On Sept. 18, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an opposition brief. It read, in part, “the breadth of the Proposed Settlement—especially the forward-looking business arrangements it seeks to create—raises significant legal concerns. ... A global disposition of the rights to millions of copyrighted works is typically the kind of policy change implemented through legislation, not through a private judicial settlement.” Judge Chin announced a delay of the hearing. The Open Book Alliance, along with many others, applauded the delay and is calling for an open, transparent process going forward to deal with the future of book digitization and the issue of orphan works in a way that best benefits the public interest.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback.

© 2009 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

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By Matt Spencer, May 3, 2012 at 1:10 am Link to this comment

I feel Google is doing the right thing. Several books that are out of print that are valuable reads should be made available, and since Google is doing a good job with that, it should be the one continuing to make them available. The monopoly of “recorded human knowledge” is justified to a certain extent.

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By prosefights, November 5, 2009 at 10:17 pm Link to this comment

Here may be the problem.

Under current efficiency trends, national energy consumption by servers and data centers could nearly double again in another five years (i.e., by 2011) to more than 100 billion kWh (Figure ES-1), representing a $7.4 billion annual electricity cost. The peak load on the power grid from 7 these servers and data centers is currently estimated to be approximately 7 gigawatts (GW), equivalent to the output of about 15 baseload power plants. If current trends continue, this demand would rise to 12 GW by 2011, which would require an additional 10 power plants.

Google any portion of above for article.

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By Pilgrim, November 5, 2009 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Shenonymous, I will be responding to those the moment my brain is fried and I am heading to bed…am I just too old fashioned for the new and inevitable technology?

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By Shenonymous, November 5, 2009 at 11:12 am Link to this comment

Pilgrim I share your angst.  But I believe we probably will not see the
disappearance of all books. What might disappear are pulp fiction and soft
paperbacks.  Maybe many hard copy book publishers will be forced to go out
of business.  Libraries will downsize and might become regional rather than
citywide.  It will depend on what cities want to do.  Even the smallest libraries
now have a computer room or area set aside for computer use.  Sort of like
computer cafes.  I don’t think they ought to be used for anything but online
books or research.  But that might be difficult to control.

Illustrators of books will suffer probably but they would just have to learn
computer graphics software.  That media is difficult to create the kind of art
the is in the hearts of artists.  A new kind of artist will emerge, have emerged
already.  The CGI artist (Computer Generated Imagery).  3-dimensional
artworks would probably take on more value since there will be less of them. 
I’m just musing about a possible future world.  Typeface is an art and I don’t
thinks typestyle design will go away.  Books that are still published will
probably become better crafted and kept as valued things.  They will no doubt
become more expensive as well.  Hemingways and Calvinos and Ecos,
Rushdies, and Rilkes, etc., will show up in the culture no doubt since the
creative impulse will always be within humankind.  Online poetry is alive and
well and the poets like to see their efforts in paper print.  Self publishing will
grow as a practice.  I’ve published a book of my poetry with illustrations for
family and friends with no thought for commercial purposes. I am very happy
with the results as are those who received one.  I think computer books will
take its place in the pantheon of literature and not really replace all printed
books.  I love my coffee table books as the photos are exquisite unlike they
are on the computer that you can’t really flip through in your reverie even
though you can link to other images at will. There is something about the
actual manual feel of turning pages that cannot be experienced with an online
book.  It has something to do with the haptic sense.  It is a completely
different experience.  Don’t you really think so too?

Textbooks will no doubt go online and students will probably cheer for that
since for some reason textbooks weigh more than an elephant sometimes.  I
know this firsthand.

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By prosefights, November 1, 2009 at 7:17 am Link to this comment

matt james in 2007 and roger allen in 2009 both have written on the electric power servers consume. 

Google ‘scripting languages pollute’ to locate links to both articles.

This page is formatted with css script.

Or you can google ‘greening server farms’ to locate the articles individually.

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By monday, October 25, 2009 at 9:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Self determination has just gone out the window. And another nail in the coffin. But our Constitution dictates that religion is an ill measure. But that’s whats next, of course. WOW.

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By prosefights, October 24, 2009 at 8:30 pm Link to this comment

On-line may have problems.

Future electricity shortages.

Printed books may have problems too. Future energy shortages?

Google ‘energy crisis’

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By Pilgrim, October 24, 2009 at 7:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I just cannoot get this whole thing out of my mind. 

Every book is going to look like this email, just screen after screen of boring print? 

What about illustrations?  What about childrens’s books?

What is a “snippet” and who decides what does or doesn’t get in?

Where is George Orwell when we need him?

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By Shenonymous, October 24, 2009 at 7:20 pm Link to this comment

Thinking about this whole book question, and I think it is a question because it
is puzzling, some ideas have come to mind.  First what would be the impact on
literacy were books to disappear into the haze of the Internet? 

But before I get into questions or ideas any distance I want to report a real life
irony.  In my one and only comment on this forum, I bemoaned the possibility
of physical books disappearing and having to read computer lit electronic
forms of literature, and I humorously hoped I had not jinxed my large desktop
computer by mentioning the words “computer crash.” 

Well, as if I invoked the anger of a computer god, about two weeks ago my
computer’s hard drive actually got fried from an electrical storm power surge
after a power outage.  Fortunately I had a vintage laptop, that I dearly love, it is
a 26 years old a Blueberry Clamshell iBook that was still working and used as a
backup whilst the iMac was in the computer hospital.  It would have been
difficult had I had to depend on that laptop to read books!  But then could we
still call them books if they are electronic?  Seems like a whole new term needs
to be invented.  Needless to say, I have my Big Mac back and a whole new
perspective on its value!  But not for reading books even though it has a large
20” screen.  The light that emits from the screen is difficult for me to sustain
any lengthy time to look at and I really like to feel the paper of the pages as I
turn them or flip back to an earlier page.  I don’t like to scroll with the mouse,
but I do like to underline (with erasable pencil) concepts or ideas found in the
books I read.  I often read for hours.  You know like when insomnia strikes!  So
when my eyes tire from commenting on Truthdig or a couple of other
philosophy blogs, I go curl up with a book in an easy chair to read.  I read
unendingly, always with several books going at the same time.  I remeasured
the feet of books I have shelved and it is a lot more than 65 feet!  I was
shocked myself. 

A former classmate of mine in college, a printmaker, had his MFA graduate
exhibition and he wanted to raise the consciousness of what books are for.  In a
rather sizable campus gallery, he laid the floor wall to wall with books all the
from the back of the gallery to the front door.  Beyond the main room space
there was an alcove where he set up his printing press, some printing type, and
a few other items that would be found when working on prints.  On the walls
was his art exhibition of printworks which were terrific etchings, serigraphs
(silkscreens), and lithographs.  In order to view the show, one had to walk on
the floor of books.  Part of his exhibition was for visitors to note in a journal
their reaction when confronted with having to put their feet on the books. 
When I went to see his show, I noted the almost absolute reticence of the
viewers to even go into the gallery.  I knew what TIm was up to and I had no
qualms walking on the books but took the time to look at them and read some
of the titles, which is what he really want people to do: To contemplate what
the value of books were.  To look at them in a different way, as useful vehicles
for the knowledge they provided.  But in themselves they are often beautiful
artifacts whose beauty is simply their outward appearance.  The art of
bookmaking became important to notice.  When one recognized a title, it
summoned up a recognition and imagery of having read the contents at one
time before in life.  It could also conjure what feelings one had at that time, or
what intellectual involvement had been going on as well.  It was a lovely show,
and the printmaker gave demonstrations on the printing press as he rolled off a
few prints and was able to sell them right then and there, signed and
numbered for the edition he was publishing. 

Some other ideas about the implications of the possible passing of hardbound
and paperback books next time.

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By Pilgrim, October 22, 2009 at 7:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sitting for hours at the computer is draining, hard on the eyes, hard on the nerves, and I agree with everything Shenonymous said.

Reading a book is a peaceful, relaxing experience.  One will never “curl up” in the corner and read anything electronically with the same level or peace and relaxation.

And what about the pleasure of browsing through a bookstore (used books or new) and coming across something wonderful and unexpected? 

Soft lights, quiet, fully absorbed attention…its not going to ever be there on the computer….the whole idea is giving me a headache!

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By BLJONE04, October 21, 2009 at 4:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I want to comment on the extinction of libraries.  The idea of loving books will never leave those that truly love reading.  Everyone does not use technology and individuals may have disabilities (blind, unusable hands, etc.). 

Also a Free Public Library is for the at-risk and impoverished citizens that more than likely don’t have computer access.  Everyone that even has computers don’t necessarily have Internet access.  To do away with libraries is to make a very foolish assumpution and disrupt education at a crucial moment in Americas history where access to knowledge is essential to improving academic achievement throughout the country.

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By prosefights, October 1, 2009 at 4:17 pm Link to this comment

In response to: How Meaningful Is 230-MPG?
billp37 commented:

Markus Unread and all.
coal in the tank energybiz
Scanning the Horizon of Books and Libraries

How Meaningful Is 230-MPG?

Report this

By prosefights, September 30, 2009 at 7:00 pm Link to this comment

——- Forwarded Message——-
From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To: “John Sobolewski”
Sent: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 9:24:36 AM GMT -07:00 US/Canada Mountain
Subject: huge (in terms of lines of code) programs they have written

Programs I am interfacing to are written in interpreted scripting languages which execute HORRIBLY SLOWLY.

Scripting language programs are not “green” in the sense they consume lots of electricity.

I commented at Scanning the Horizon of Books and Libraries.

——- Forwarded Message——-
From: “John Sobolewski”
To: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Sent: Sunday, September 27, 2009 10:02:52 PM GMT -07:00 US/Canada Mountain
Subject: RE: my new project

Today, programmers tend to brag about the huge (in terms of lines of code) programs they have written. This is unimpressive. To boot, their programs usually assume infinite CPU, infinite memory and infinite disk space. Instead, their bragging should be how small their program is, how little memory and disk it requires and how fast it runs on an average CPU to gets the job done. But they do not teach that in school anymore. John.

High tech may have serious BTU problems.

BTUs IN, KWh out.

In the opposite direction.

3412.14163 BTU = 1KWh.

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By socrates2, September 30, 2009 at 4:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If proposes to hold exclusive rights to own/house/store anything, I would oppose such centralization of any knowledge on principle alone.
We humans were stuck in a Dark Age of human history because for nearly one thousand years one institution declared itself the “repository” of universal knowledge and established the rules for “adding” to this storehouse of knowledge (witches, alchemists, scientists, philosophers, and astronomers need not bother to “apply”—under pain of excommunication, torture, and death…). And then the Moslems came along with competitive texts and the Crusades broke out!
Never again!

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By Diogo, September 30, 2009 at 3:14 pm Link to this comment

The claim that Google would have a “practical monopoly” is contradicted several times in the article.

First of all - how is it a monopoly if Google makes the books available for free? Anyone can have access and even copy any book. How can that be a monopoly.

Also, if the Internet Archive can also publish books online - how’s that a monopoly?

I think it’s great that the process is in its way of becoming more transparent - which indicates that there’s nothing to fear in here. Personally, I suspect that the direction Google is taking book publishing is exactly what benefits the public interest - a massive project that makes acessible to anyone all books ever published for free (with exception of copyrighted works).

I suspect that Amy Goodman and others would have an ideological and aesthetic preference for small publishers and business, like Internet Archive, that claim to have a more “collaborative” approach. But these seem to constitute a special interest sector of society which may stand in the way of the promising trend of making information free and ascessible - a reactionary force, therefore.

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, September 30, 2009 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

Sometimes it is link after link after link after link…

Google is a Goliath and while incredibly agile, is sophisticated, and has
a powerhouse database, it too often presents its stupid side.  When
researching, the most noxious selections are presented unless you
know precisely, absolutely precisely, the kind of object you are seeking. 
Make one deviation and you spend hours and hours trying to link to
the right item or trying to come up with the right words that fetch the
information to you.  Even if you don’t make any slip-ups, you often still
have to spend hours and hours looking because the search parameters
are not conducive to finding what is looked for.  Also for each and
every item searched, blogs upon blogs clogs the search results pages. 
Good grief.  When specific real data is desired, you don’t want to see a
list of people’s opinionated rantings.  It can get extraordinarily tedious.

There ought to be more than one search engine and they ought to
compete.  Someone made the comment we don’t need a Big Brother
only providing what it “thinks” you want or what it wants to give you.  I
could say more and even offer expletives, but I will be good and
control the urge.

I love the feel of books, the way they look on the shelf, shelf after shelf
after shelf.  Their weight (some are unreal in poundage!) gives a certain
realness that is completely missing from their electronic brethern.  I
love real paper and bound books.  Some have speckled edges, others
are deckled.  Some have excellently designed covers others, well I won’t
say how banal they are.  Nevertheless it is a way to take some bit of
knowledge to any room in the house, on the stairway, out on a lawn
chair, even the bathroom in the tub or on the you know what.  I
measure books in shelf feet, and I think I have about 65 feet of
treasured books, maybe more.  As a student or scholar, you can have
12 books open at one time fiercely hunting for that piece of
information that will make your paper superior.  You can have any kind
of light you need.  You are on the computer too many hours already,
uh hem, blogging and searching… and shopping.  I would be a sad
individual if books disappeared.  Besides I’m too scotch to want to put
money into something electronic that I couldn’t get my hands on
should the computer crash. I do not like Kindle.  Oh I hope I didn’t
jinx my computer again! 

ProfBob thank you for the links, I will find them very useful. The
Gutenberg Project is terrific.

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By Mundo Garcia, September 30, 2009 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

this alone has to make anyone with the littles of brains to say “STOP , NO , NEVER !
The settlement grants Google, Automatically, Permission to scan, display and sell books that are still in copyright but are deemed “out of print,”  and for which the copyright holder cannot be easily found. These are referred to as “orphan works.” The status of orphan works has been the subject of much debate, and legislation has been proposed to make orphan works more available to the public. The GBS gives Google, AND ONLY GOOGLE !, AND ONLY GOOGLE ! AND ONLY GOOGLE ! the legal right to digitize and sell these works. All this means the Hell with the rest of us, we are S.O.L.

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By prosefights, September 30, 2009 at 8:04 am Link to this comment

All of this electronic stuff may end badly is the not-too-distant future for comment stated in “How Meaningful Is 230-MPG?” [gpogle title]

September 14, 2009
In response to: How Meaningful Is 230-MPG?
Markus Unread commented:

It’s like I tell my EV car friends - “Great! I like your 63% coal/natural gas car. It’s so green!”

Electricity shortages loom - especially in Iran.
Google “nojheh nsa lawsuit”

Electricity reserve margins in the US have been falling, I’ve read and heard.  Google “electricity reserve margin”

Google “steve martin pnm” to look at

bpayne37/pnmelectric/altreport/altreport - PWP - splash
PNM forecaster Steve Martin alerted us about new construction as the ..... PNM load forecaster Steve Martin identified sources of increased electric loads. ...

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By ProfBob, September 30, 2009 at 6:00 am Link to this comment

As a published author more than 40 books, college texts and trade books with major publishers, I have been reading a number of free ebooks. Some are quite good, like “in Search of Utopia” ( some are absolute garbage. ( is one of many sites for free ebooks as is Project Gutenberh and World Library. There are also free college textbooks ( or

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By michael, September 30, 2009 at 5:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We don’t need more Big Brothers controlling what we read. The few giant book
publishing corporations and removable Kindlized digital books should be ample warning. 
This trend in business, entertainment, food suppliers, communication, etc has
been on-going for decades. What we need is more diversity, not consolidation of

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By politicky, September 29, 2009 at 6:17 pm Link to this comment

We need libraries and books online.

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