Objections Raised To Google Book Search (And This Time It's Not From Publishers)
The objecting institutions do not like to see private businesses controlling access to the world of knowledge contained in these books. This is despite the unquestionable fact that Google and Microsoft are doing researchers and readers a great favor by making vast amounts of knowledge readily available at their fingertips. In the past, huge amounts of time and work were required to reach this material, visiting many libraries, perhaps thousands of miles away, searching through their records, and obtaining permission to look at their old books (which might be denied). Google and Microsoft have made a difficult and laborious process very simple. They have provided us with instant access to the text of millions of old books and they don't even charge for it.
So what is the issue? This process puts what was previously under the control of nonprofit, mostly public institutions, under the dominion of private, for profit ones. Their ultimate responsibility is to their shareholders, not the public. There is something unsettling about the thought that knowledge, once available equally to all through the public library system, could effectively be controlled by institutions created to make money for their shareholders. It is already a huge issue that most of our access to news is controlled by for-profit organizations whose financial interests may determine what we see, or how it is "spun." Could this also happen to all of our past knowledge as well?
The objecting institutions are instead making their books available for scanning to the Open Content Alliance. The OCA is a nonprofit and places no restrictions on how its material may be accessed. It is placed on an open server where any search engine, Google and Microsoft included, may access it freely. It favors no one. However, there is a downside to this. The institutions must pay to have their books scanned. This is an expensive process with no Google or Microsoft to foot the bill. The institutions must find public-spirited contributors to finance the scanning, rather than accessing the enormous profits of Google and Microsoft. The result is this is a slower process for the OCA, resulting in a less complete database than those offered by their commercial counterparts.