Last week Microsoft announced that it will cease its Live Search program and the associated programs of mass digitization that it has been undertaking with many libraries. The response in the library world has generally been one of resigned sadness that the only big player other than Google is getting out of the free (to the libraries) mass digitization business. From an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
“Microsoft was a little slower off the mark than Google,” says Anne R. Kenney, university librarian at Cornell University. Her library has supplied both Microsoft and Google with books and articles for digitization. “It would have meant an awful lot of additional investment in this area for Microsoft to be a real competitor.”
In the same article, I am quoted as saying “The more the merrier. I don’t like a monopoly, and I like it when there’s lots of money behind an extremely important project.” I continue to wish that there were folks with deep pockets lining up to provide free digitization of the world’s library collections. Alas, there is no one in line that I know of, and with Microsoft’s departure, the only serious player is Google.
Speaking of Google, (as I find myself doing rather frequently) a recent posting on Ars Technica includes the following remark, which is misleading in several ways:
If people think that corporations are the right way to access the history of human discourse, [Brewster] Kahle says they’re in for “a series of very rude shocks.” (The University of Michiagn (sic), which has thrown in its lot with Google, does not agree.)
I want to emphasize, yet again, that I completely agree with Brewster Kahle that it would be a very bad thing if a single corporation were in control of the cultural record. Indeed, it would be bad if, as is the case with much of audio and video, the control were divided up amongst several corporations. Nonprofit organizations, emphatically including research libraries, are the natural stewards of information that will be of value to society for the indefinite future, precisely because we are driven by a mission of preservation and access, rather than by profit. Good thing, then, that the University of Michigan and other universities whose collections are being digitized by Google continue to hold the original copies of their print works, and also receive and preserve copies of the image files and associated text files that are produced by Google’s nondestructive scanning of these works.
I will miss Microsoft, and I hope that others will take its place – again, the more the merrier. In the meantime, the University of Michigan Library now has well over a million digitized books in its catalogue, with the number growing by thousands every day. Visit us online at www.lib.umich.edu. Our catalog will allow search of all of the digitized works, and full view of those that are in the public domain.