There has been a scattered distribution of public opinion on Google’s attempts to categorize, scan, and otherwise track book titles on their new ‘book search’. Basically, Google is partnering with a number of libraries (in particular, the libraries of higher education institutions) to create a searchable database of books. How would this be different than Amazon, J Stor, or any other number of libraries or book sellers? The idea is a universal approach. Unless you happen to be a college student yourself, many universities do not allow access to their online resources. Materials are also not available for check out. Public libraries similarly offer limited access, depending on your residence stature. Google also plans to maintain a full, downloadable record for those works whose copyright has expired. Which could mean access to rare (and quite possibly, bad) fiction that most local libraries don’t carry.
While I can understand some people’s fear of losing a right (how are publishers to make any money if books are available for free online?), the core comes down to benefit for the masses. Want to see one of the first Bibles in Arabic type? Here it is. Looking for yet another Eva Ibbotsen title which your local bookstore or library doesn’t carry? Let Google do the search work for you. Researching Cai Yan and unable to find good research in English? Get it online, rather than waiting four to six weeks for the University of Michigan to send you the copy of a thesis.
When the ebook was a new thing, everyone got all excited about the end of print books and who had the rights to epublishing. But that amounted to very little, probably because no one has capitalized on the industry. New trends like Kindle and printing on demand might change that, but my guess is that things will pretty much keep on as they have. People will still read books. The bookstore giants, as well as service places like libraries, will keep on keeping on. They may have to adapt and offer new services (more computers at libraries, print on demand at bookstores), but the purposes for which they were created are still there. Yes, we are all in support of the expansion of knowledge, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to lose the need for a personal touch. It could be that bookstores go more online, that libraries become meeting spaces and public outreach centers rather than only information houses. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be robots. If I can’t find something where I want it when I want it, even in our changing culture of instant gratification, you can bet I’m going to find some person to help me or to complain to.