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Google as a librarian?

It seems Google does and is just about everything. Search. E-mail. Documents. Maps. Pictures. And now, it just might be the latest digital librarian. Its vehicle: Google Book Search, which allows users to search the full text of 7 million books online.

Three years ago, the Authors Guild, Association of American Publishers, and several other authors and publishers filed a class action lawsuit against Google Book Search.

Although that lawsuit was settled in October, the settlement must still be approved. If it goes through, Google will gain control of digitizing of virtually all copyrighted books in America.

This recent New York Times article by Noam Cohen lays out the current situation. According to the article, it seems Google is trying to wield its power to determine "who gets access to [those] books; how access will be [sold and] attained."

This is a very interesting crossroads for books, libraries, and digital content. Right now, Google has the money and the means to play librarian for a while -- something that most organizations don't.

But unlike librarians in public and special libraries, there's a question about whether we can trust Google to have our best interests at heart.

I will throw my hat in the ring on one point and disagree with Daniel J. Clancy, the engineering director for Google Book Search, who says, " … search and discovery improves with more content."

Not necessarily. In social knowledge networks, as in many other aspects of research and discovery, context is everything. And when you have relevant content, people can begin to extract the true value of the information at hand.

We do know that the road to digitalization is happening in both public and special libraries. As the patrons of this digital content, we must continue to demand fair distribution of and access to these materials as Google's role plays out.

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