Read today a Google Books PR piece on the Guardian website. Of out-of-print or hard-to-get books, it says, “Although copies may be available in libraries, they are effectively dead to the wider world.” Also heard today that Google Street View is proposing inside views, museum interiors.

Last week, I and some OKF people heard a Google Books lawyer, Antoine Aubert, speak at the 7th COMMUNIA workshop on the public domain.

Google digitise the holdings of libraries free of cost, returning the library a copy, retaining some exclusivity over further re-use for Google. For example, a library is asked not to allow other search engines to index the digitised full text of the works.

Rufus commented on the Public Domain Calculator cross-European project that “A library who will remain nameless would not provide us with their catalogue metadata because of an exclusive arrangement with Google in rights to re-use the catalogue. Were they mistaken?” Antoine was not able to give a definite answer, to this and other questions.

A library’s raison d’etre is to provide physical access to books. With high-quality digitisations online for free, physical traffic will definitely fall. Space used for storage in prime central locations is inefficient; why not just scan the books and keep them in an air-conditioned warehouse in Swindon?

Meanwhile a library’s purchasing power is partly determined by the number of people borrowing books. New books will be indexed and stored by Google directly from publishers. There won’t be much reason to visit a library.

The library will become a museum of books. The museum will become a mausoleum of things.

To survive as institutions, museums, libraries and archives need a sustainability model, one which cannot depend on state funding alone.

One path to explore is commercial services for special purposes – re-use of very large high-resolution scans, printing of images and facsimiles, new or custom images, new interfaces and search functions.

If Google now has the right to restrict the use of the works online, those libraries accepting the “free” digitisation offer are not free to build and maintain the services that, as memory institutions in a digital age, they really should be providing.

Well, there’s always Wikipedia, and particularly the Britain Loves Wikipedia events going on through February 2010, focused on photographing heritage objects.

Matthias Schindler spoke at the same COMMUNIA meeting about a German Wikipedia effort to fix and link metadata from authority files by the German National Library – some background slides. His message went, “Give us your metadata. Really, just give us your metadata right now.”

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