By Meredith Farkas | July 10, 2008
Seriously, I just don’t get it.
So, Google used to have a blog just for librarians called Librarian Central. I remember hearing about it from lots of folks way back when, but I didn’t read it because I figured if Google came out with something cool, I’d hear about it from someone’s blog. Apparently, the blog has not been updated since late June 2007, right after ALA Annual in DC. Google also didn’t exhibit at this year’s ALA Annual, which is probably even more glaring because it was a short plane ride away from their headquarters.
Some people are up in arms because they feel that Google has some obligation to libraries beyond the contractual obligations to those they’re working with. Some people feel like librarians have been used. I must be missing something, because I don’t feel anything of the kind. Marketing is designed to make you like a company or product. Their marketing worked.
It seems to me that between 2005 and 2007, Google was making a big push to get partner libraries for their book scanning project. To do that, it made good sense to market to libraries, which is why they exhibited, gave talks, and had a blog. Perhaps they have enough partners now to keep them busy for a gazillion years. Perhaps they’re realizing that this wasn’t such a great market to get into. I have no idea. But I really don’t see anything more nefarious or insulting behind that blog ceasing its existence.
Maybe I’m not so up in arms because I never actually thought that Google cared about librarians. Google is a company. Their goal is to turn a profit. Even when they are engaging in activities that benefit people and where we can’t exactly figure out how they’d make money from this, their goal is to make money. It’s just like any of our vendors. Readex, for example, digitizes old journals that they get from libraries all around the country. When they have a big enough collection of digital content, they sell it for BIG BUCKS. At least we’re getting Google’s products for free (well, with a heapin’ helping of ads of course).
So, there are all these libraries with awesome collections that aren’t being digitized. Google comes in and says “hey, we’ll digitize your books for free and let you have the digital copies for your students.” Google was not doing this for the good of those libraries; they were doing it for the good of Google. But clearly the Universities also saw how this project was in their best interests or their lawyers wouldn’t have signed off on it. These Universities now have tons of their books in digital format that students, faculty and staff can enjoy from anywhere. University of Michigan makes them available in their catalog. It’s awesome. Maybe I’m naive, but none of this really gets me up in arms.
As someone who supports distance learners studying military history, I am insanely grateful to Google Books (and the Internet Archive). So many of the pre-1923 works that my students are looking for are available online! It’s saved us money. It’s also making our special collections materials more accessible to our online students as so many of the books up there (which can’t circulate) are in Google Books. And now with the API that Google released, we may soon be able to have links to Google Books show up in the catalog. Google Books has benefitted my library and its students tremendously… and it’s cost us nothing. Again, awesome.
I was asked to be on PBWiki’s Educational Advisory Board way back when. Trust me that I wasn’t honored to be asked, nor did I think that PBWiki truly and genuinely cared about librarians and educators. They just wanted to get our feedback to make their products better. And that’s fine with me because I thought I could help make a product I liked better meet my needs. Win win. When they started to ask me to talk up PBWiki to the press and to basically do their marketing for them, I quit. But it’s not as if I was disillusioned. They never gave a damn about librarians other than what the could get from us. And you know what? I didn’t care about PBWiki beyond what I could get from them either. My only feelings for PBWiki come from the quality of their product, which has gone rapidly downhill with their new 2.0 wiki.
Where does this “Google punked us” idea come from? What were we expecting that we didn’t get? How has Google left “us in the information dust to rot like an old microfilm machine?” People are making it sound like these Universities who got into bed was Google were like some poor drunk co-ed who thought the guy she was sleeping with really cared about her, but wakes up to find him gone. I obviously wasn’t privy to the backroom machinations that went into these deals, but I don’t think these major Universities went into this deal blindly. I’m wondering if any people working at the libraries involved in the Google Books project feel like Google cheated us.
I like Google Books, Google Scholar, and Google Custom Search for my work in libraries just as much as I did before. I like them not because Google told me to or gave me a shirt (which they didn’t) or said nice things about libraries in a blog. I like them because they’re useful to me and to my students. End of story. Who actually promoted Google’s products only because of their marketing specifically to librarians?
If we’re promoting companies because they’re nice to us, then we are doing a disservice to every person who reads our blogs. Folks from PBWiki asked for my address several times so they could send me schwag and I ignored each of those emails. If I like a product, it’s because it works, not because the people who created it were nice to me or nice to librarians. My love isn’t for sale.