Librarians apply scrutiny to Google Books at Berkeley con

A conference at UC Berkeley tomorrow takes a hard look at the Google Books deal. Speakers will address privacy, information quality and public access issues. If Google is going to become the online library of the world, they will have to do better in all these areas.

If you're in the Bay Area and you want a full day of wonky debate, check out UC Berkeley's Google Books Conference. It features panels on how the Google Books settlement affect data mining, privacy, information quality and public access.

The conference comes hard on the heels of the formation of the Open Book Alliance, an organization driven by the Internet Archive and including Amazon, Yahoo and Microsoft, as well as library and small publishing groups among its members. Most of the speakers are opposed to the deal but Google's Tom Clancy will be there to make the company's argument.

Cnet's Tom Krazit notes:

Expect much of the debate at UC Berkeley to focus on privacy. Public libraries have long been considered anonymous places, where patrons can pursue their interests free from concerns about their browsing being tracked. The Internet, of course, is pretty much the complete opposite environment.

"Is Google going to provide the same kinds of guarantees that users expect, the ability to access books with relative anonymity? The legal document is silent on these concerns," said Michael Zimmer, a professor with the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. "I know the people at Google. I trust them, they are good people, but these are serious things."

Tom Leonard, university librarian at UC Berkeley, agrees. "We want users who use public libraries to feel very comfortable that their identifies will be protected," he said.

But if Google is the last library, as Berkeley linguist Geoff Nunberg says, it's a pretty bad one. That means serious library science must be applied to the online collection before we should outsource the history of human (or at least Western) knowledge to Google:
Google Book Search is almost laughably unusable for serious research, UC Berkeley's Nunberg said. For example, he pointed out that the Charles Dickens classic "A Tale of Two Cities" is listed in Google Book Search as having been published in 1800; Dickens was born in 1812.