From the University of Michigan, a stinging rebuke of publishers

University president declares legality and cultural imperative of Google Books: preservation, access, public good.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

You may have heard about University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman's speech to the Association of American Publishers, titled "Google, the Khmer Rouge and the Public Good," but it's certainly worth reading the full speech at the school's website. UMich is one of the major universities cooperating with the Google Book Project, which plans to digitize the entire collections of several major universities and make their contents searchable on the Web. Coleman let it be known that she was doing no backpeddling from cooperating with Mich alum Larry Page's company.

[T]he Google project is a remarkable opportunity—and a natural evolution—for a university whose mission is to create, to communicate, to preserve and to apply knowledge.

This is, simply, what we do and why we exist.

The University of Michigan’s partnership with Google offers three overarching qualities that help fulfill our mission: the preservation of books; worldwide access to information; and, most importantly, the public good of the diffusion of knowledge.

 A key part of the project for Michigan is the archive copy of every book that the project will provide.

We are allowing Google to scan all of our books—those in the public domain and those still in copyright—and they provide our library with a digital copy. We insisted on this for one very important reason: Our library must be able to do what great research libraries do—make it possible to discover knowledge.

The archive copy achieves that. This copy is entirely, and only, for preservation and research.

After assuring the publishers that the university respects copyright and would keep copyright materials in the dark until they turn public domain, she lays it on the line: Digital preservation is not optional; it's a duty to history, to citizenry, to culture.

Hurricane Katrina dealt a blow to the libraries of the Gulf Coast. At Tulane University, the main library sat in nine feet of water—water that soaked the valuable Government Documents collection: more than 750,000 items … one of the largest holdings of government materials in Louisiana … 90 percent of it now lost.

In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia decimated cultural institutions throughout the country. Khmer Rouge fighters took over the National Library, throwing books into the street and burning them, while using the empty stacks as a pigsty. Less than 20 percent of the library—home for Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage—survived.

I know we cannot and should not imagine something like this happening in the U.S. But history tells us that such events have happened. The International Federation of Library Associations calls the Cambodia assault “one of the most complete destructions known in world history.”

Now, with Google, the University of Michigan is involved in one of the most extensive preservation projects in world history.

 The project, she said in essence, will simply not be held hostage to the short-sighted preferences of commercial interests. This is about something much bigger.

We all have heard the famous Jefferson quote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

What most people do not know is the next sentence: “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

That means preservation.

That means access.

That means the public good of education.

It means taking advantage of the latest technology and our lawful rights as book owners.

It means stepping up, looking forward, and saying: “Let’s do it.”

Google Book Search, with the books of the University of Michigan, makes all that possible—it takes the corpus of human knowledge and puts it in the hands of anyone who wants it.

It can, and will, change the world, and I want the University of Michigan to be part of it.




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