I live in Sri Lanka. I buy used books from the street. My parents give me books. Most Sri Lankans have even less access than me. Anything that makes books available to more people worldwide is good to me. Google Books is one place where any Internet Cafe Johnny can search and reference (mostly old) books if they have the initiative. What they’re calling for isn’t that controversial, they’re just collecting and preserving out of print books and ‘orphaned’ books where the copyright has expired. These would likely disappear into McCallum street, or entirely. They’re also talking about a payment system for copyright authors. Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon, however, are suing them.
To quote Google Co-founder Sergey Brin’s editorial
In the Insurance Year Book 1880-1881, which I found on Google Books, Cornelius Walford chronicles the destruction of dozens of libraries and millions of books, in the hope that such a record will “impress the necessity of something being done” to preserve them. The famous library at Alexandria burned three times, in 48 B.C., A.D. 273 and A.D. 640, as did the Library of Congress, where a fire in 1851 destroyed two-thirds of the collection.
Personally, I’ve been reading this excellent, funny book by Tamim Ansary called Destiny Disrupted: A History Of The World Through Islamic Eyes. Oddly, the parts that make me react emotionally were not the episodes from the Crusades, like
They went on a frightening rampage that including boiling adult Muslims up for soup and skewering Muslim children on spits… and eating them. I know this sounds like horrible propaganda that the defeated Muslims might have concocted to slander the Crusades, but reports of Crusader cannibalism in this instance come from Frankish as well as Arab sources.
oddly it was
[Genghis Khan] razed the legendary old city of Balkh, know to the ancients as “the Mother of Cities,” dumping its library into the Oxus River, hundreds of thousands of handwritten volumes swept away.
Perhaps it’s because I know Mr. Khan’s relatives, but it’s the destruction of knowledge that got me emotionally. Not that I’m not horrified by eating Muslim children, I’m just saying. Personally, the burning of the Jaffna Library is one of the things I regret most about Sri Lanka’s long war. But I digress.
Google is trying to digitize old books, especially orphan books where the copyright holder can be found. They’re also setting up a system to pay authors while making the information available to billions of people. Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon are suing to make them stop (for business reasons basically). That sucks. I recommend reading Dr. Brin’s full editorial.