Google Makes Librarians ‘Queasy’

Google Books engineering director Dan Clancy participated in a panel discussion at the Boston Public Library this week, according to the Boston Globe, to respond to librarians’ concerns about Google’s role as the proprietor of more than 10 million digital books, of which 1.5 million are currently available online free of charge.

Panel organizer Maura Marx, executive director of the Boston nonprofit Open Knowledge Commons, raised the concern that “people are very uncomfortable with the idea that one corporation has so much power over such a large collection of knowledge.’’ But Clancy appears to have said little to allay librarians’ “queasy” feelings (as one panelist put it), in a conversation that centered on Google’s complex settlement regarding payments to authors and publishers for out of print works.

The morning after the event at Boston Public Library, Clancy and Jon Orwant, who directs the Google Books operation in Cambridge, described an ongoing project that vastly outstrips Google’s controversial settlement, which

involves “around six’’ scanning centers around the world scanning “thousands of books a day.’’ At the same time, Google is building partnerships with publishers that allow Google Books to host the publishers’ content. In the Google model, digital books will be independent of any particular electronic reading device, such as Amazon’s Kindle….

“Will we be done when we have 40 million books? 50 million books?’’ Clancy said. “We don’t know yet.’’

Responding separately to recent complaints about reader privacy issues by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Clancy promised that “whatever we ultimately build will protect readers’ privacy rights,” pending approval by the court reviewing the current settlement, according to Publishers Lunch (subscription only). Clancy points to a FAQ page for further questions, adding “we don’t yet know exactly how this all will work,” the site reports.

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