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Re: Privacy and the Google settlement (long, sorry)

On 7/28/09 5:50 PM, "John Buschman" <jeb224@georgetown.edu> wrote:

> I take exception to a number of assumptions here...

John's response to my posting seems, in significant part, to be a response
to someone else -- someone who has argued that Google should be invited to
gather data from patrons' library records, who wishes to "define (the
library) out of existence," who doesn't believe that our government snoops
or, if it does, that government snooping is a problem, and who proposes that
libraries make it their mission to "track & market to our users just like
Amazon or Verizon."  I think anyone who reads my original posting will see
where it diverges from these characterizations.  I do want to respond to a
couple of John's more substantive points, though.

First of all, we may like it or we may not, but the fact is that every
library is in fact a broker.  Libraries take money from their patrons, pool
the money, and use it to purchase and distribute access to information
products that most individual patrons could not buy for themselves.  In
return, librarians are paid for their work.  Whether these facts require one
to regard the library as a "business" depends, I guess, on whether one can
formulate a definition of professional brokerage that does not necessarily
imply the conduct of business.  Personally, I can't come up with such a
definition.  Maybe the library is a business the way NPR is a business
rather than the way Exxon is a business, but it seems to me that it's still
a business.  It also seems to me that when librarians try to pretend
otherwise, patrons end up being hurt more than helped.

Second, if my awkward attempt at concision came across as blitheness in
dealing with these important issues, then that's my fault and I apologize.
Let me be clear: I am, in fact, dead serious about the urgency of our
response to the Google settlement.  I'm convinced that when the settlement
is approved its impact on research libraries will be seismic, and we had
better get very serious very quickly about our response to it.  Serious
responses would include realistic and visionary answers to the question
"What are we going to do differently when a substantial part of our role has
been taken over by Google?".  In my opinion, our profession's responses so
far have generally not been serious.  Talking about patron privacy is not a
serious response to the Google settlement -- not because privacy is
unimportant, but because the settlement itself poses no serious risk to
patron privacy.  Talking about "heightening inequalities among libraries" is
not a serious response -- not because equity doesn't matter, but because the
Google settlement will have the net effect of increasing everyone's access,
even if the increase is uneven across institutions.  Warning that Google may
someday raise its prices is not a serious response -- not because price
doesn't matter, but because, for crying out loud, everyone raises their
prices, including libraries (which ask for budget increases regularly, and
sometimes actually get them).  Yes, Google's financial strength and
functional near-monopoly on the digitized versions of GBS books puts it in a
position, theoretically, to raise prices with relative impunity -- but
suppose it did so.  How would we be worse off than we were before, when full
access to digitized versions of those books was unavailable at any price?
The worst-case scenario in terms of price is the current status quo.

I realize I've expressed myself in strong terms here, but I think this issue
is too serious for pussyfooting around.  I think that our profession may be
facing an existential challenge, and that as a profession we are tending to
respond to it with emotionally resonant, self-congratulatory sloganeering
rather than actual strategies.  As someone who loves libraries, who believes
that the world would be poorer without them (even with Google Book Search),
and who would like to work in them for another, oh, 22 years or so, I would
very much like to see us get serious.

Rick Anderson
Assoc. Dir. For Scholarly Resources & Collections
Marriott Library
Univ. of Utah