Here's a bit of followup to my post on Google Books, libraries and Robert Darnton's article in New York Review of Books.
My long-time friend Jen Schaffner at OCLC (the Online Computer Library Center) is way deeper into the thicket of negotiations between Google Books and various US libraries than I am. She's provided a list of resources (below) that un-tangle some of what's going on. She has also described the widely held concern, among librarians, about the impact of Google's mass digitization process on the availability of book-based information online.
An exemplary problem: While access to the materials online might not be at issue (or it might be, as I said, it's complex), the participating libraries only receive their own, storable digital copies of books that they provide. Since GBooks is only going to digitize each title once, this arrangement will likely lead to a "swiss cheese" model: libraries will have digital copies of the books in their collections that GBooks has scanned, but there will be holes in the parts of their collections GBooks scans using copies owned by other libraries.
Is this a big deal?
It might be. Libraries can use digital copies as safeguards against the degradation of original print books, printing and circulating new books made from the digital copies that they have in their possession. If GBooks scans copies from another library, however, our first library will be out of luck in relation to using digital copies to conserve their print collection.
My overall impression is that the GBooks partnership agreements and legal settlement are separating libraries, rather than supporting strong library networks, and that they're potentially pitting libraries against each other.
The most eloquent description of the libraries' plight, as described by a librarian, appears in a report by Intelligent Television, commissioned by OCLC Programs and Research:
We were approached singly, charmed in confidence, the stranger was beguiling, and we embraced. For the love of selfish confidence, we spoke neither our fortune nor our misgivings with our neighbors or our friends. We felt special, invited to loud weddings on far away islands of adventure; in the quiet we may wonder if we were given broken jewelry.
We could have chosen to question the worth of the marriage under the terms offered. We might have chosen to hold off the sequined cloaks of confidence that wrapped our suitor's gifts. The glamour of it! Yet we knew there were other wives already, and we might have joined them in union, consulted openly, wondered what would be best for all instead of merely ourselves; but our concerns were narrow. In our selfishness, and wrapped in the fears we were given, we re-wrote and redefined our aims, misplaced our responsibilities, allowed the light and glory of the ideal to suffuse its glow over the bargain's deficits.3
That about sums it up. Other resources passed on by Jen include:
An OCLC blog post interpreting the settlement. here
A informed and readable account of the problems, by Paul Courant