Libraries of the Future – session 2

Perspective: commercial sector – Santiago de la Mora (Google)

Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.  It sounds grandiose, but that is the underlying theme of our products.  We started with the internet because the content was already online. The big challenge is bringing offline content online – to make it accessible and discoverable.

Books are a brilliant source of information. If we improve search, then everything else will follow.   Users have found books they did not know about.  The easier search is when you know what you are looking for, and you just go and retrieve it.

Our goal is to satisfy our users, and our users come from all walks of life.  It’s a very dynamic community.  The core of our library’s collection is in the out-of-copyright, out-of-print books.  Google can help to bring these books back to life.  It’s a nice mission to have.

Given copyright limitations, a user in the UK will go through four user experiences – full view, limited preview, snippet view and no preview available.  In order to succeed, Google needs to team up with copyright-holders, libraries, users, authors, publishers, and book-sellers – the whole ecosystem needs to see a benefit.  In Europe, we are focusing on public domain content to help libraries fulfil their dual mission – to preserve content, and to make content accessible.

On Google.com’s web search, books are coming up if there’s an author or title match, but what’s most interesting for us is where there’s a match on the topic or the content.  Partners are surprised by the fact that every book in their collection has been viewed regardless of publication date – the reason is full-text search.

On WorldCat there is a Google preview button.  If there’s a match with a book we have on Google, you can click on it and see the preview.  We want users to interact with the books – create and annotate.

This concept of the “long tail” has been used from a commercial point of view, but it’s interesting from a library’s point of view – the idea of keeping books alive through the internet.  There’s unlimited shelf space.  There’s no pressure to constantly review what we offer.  The number of users accessing content has increased exponentially, and creates a huge opportunity that everyone will benefit from.  I think we are part of the solution – we are trying to bring the right content in front of the right user.

Perspective: citizen – Professor Robert Darnton, Director of the Harvard University Library

There is an increase in the use of libraries today because of the current economic crisis. Citizens are pouring into libraries because they like books, and they want jobs.

The library is going to serve the older generation, which is increasing all the time.  Older people have difficulty with digitisation – they feel confused and frustrated with the chaotic appearance of a website.  Librarians of the future will need to help these people with what’s at their fingertips.  “Information managers” may sound too businesslike, but it describes librarians’ behaviour.

Younger people think everything is online, and all information is equal, and thus they don’t judge sources.  They need to consult a librarian to help them sort through information and question sources.

Most reference books today are online, and that costs money.  It’s all available in the library – the library acts as intermediary.  Open access may be the future, but until then it’ll be open access via the library, who has to pay for it.

We are developing new techniques of conveying meta-data with wiki-type attachments.

The demand for books will clearly exist in the foreseeable future, but the long-term future will be digital.

For the 21st century, I think we need a digital Carnegie Library system.  Google would be a player in that.

Questions and answers

Q: I find it frustrating that libraries don’t share data or assets.

Robert: I don’t have an answer, but I share your regret. Public libraries and local authorities lost a golden opportunity that Google seized.  We should have digitised material and made it open access.  The danger is that Google will make money from it and the public will suffer.  A great entrepreneurial company took the chance.  We need to work out a partnership between commercial enterprise and the public good.  My worry is that we can’t.

Q: Google links to books to buy from WorldCat. Will they also link to books that are free online?

Santiago: When you go to Book Search, a significant number of books there are already in the public domain and can be browsed online or downloaded in their entirety.

Q: Should libraries divert resources towards creating more digital content?

Robert: Yes. We must digitise and democratise.  The problem with many libraries is that they serve a particular body, for example students. We need to open them up – not by opening physical doors, but through digitisation.

Q: Are the librarian’s roles for the younger and older generations eternal, or just for the moment, and does Google see itself fulfilling those same roles?

Robert: I think it’s true that someone born in 2010 will not feel nostalgic for the paper book.

Santiago: It’s a complementary process. We serve as a catalyst in terms of interest for content.  Online is not a substitute for interacting with a physical book, even though the public domain content that we have online can be converted into plain text.

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