Category Archives: Google

“…an ATM for books”: Google partners with the Espresso Book Machine to print public domain books on demand

According to this press release, Google has signed an agreement with On Demand Books, the maker of the Espresso Book Machine, giving them access to over 2 million public-domain works that have been scanned and converted to digital files as part of the Google Book Search project.

This Wired post about the partnership notes that the $100,000 Espresso Book Machine:

…cranks out a 300 page gray-scale [paperback] book with a color cover in about 4 minutes, at a cost to the bookstore of about $3 for materials. The machine prints the pages, binds them together perfectly, and then cuts the book to size and then dumps a book out, literally hot off the press, with a satisfying clunk. (The company says a machine can print about 60,000 books a year.)…

On Demand Books suggests that book stores price the books at about $8, leaving retailers with a $3 profit after both Google and On Demand Books collect a buck-a-book fee. Google plans to donate its share to a yet-unspecified charity, which might be a reaction to its messy legal and public policy fight over a copyright settlement that covers books that are still in copyright. (All the books that are being added to On Demand Books repertoire in this agreement are out of copyright in the country where it will be printed.)

Paul Constant, the books editor of The Stranger, posted the news today that Third Place Books, a large independent bookstore in the Seattle area, is getting an Espresso Book Machine in November. Here’s a list of all of the places that have them.

I love the idea of being able to produce physical copies of public domain books on demand at a reasonable price, but I suspect this may have a terrible impact on the used and antiquarian book market.

Update: The Inside Google Books blog has posted this video of the Espresso Book Machine in action:

“…those lost books of the last century can be brought back to life and made searchable, discoverable, and citable…”

Thanks to DigitalKoans for calling attention to an interesting essay by Tim Barton, president of Oxford University Press, titled “Saving Texts From Oblivion: Oxford U. Press on the Google Book Settlement.” Here’s an excerpt:

In describing books, the Scottish-American classicist Gilbert Arthur Highet once wrote, “These are not lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves.” In a world in which students consult not shelves but keyboards, too many of those lively minds remain out of sight, exiled to those shelves, where, every year, there is a virtual conflagration not unlike the fire at the ancient library at Alexandria, as last copies of precious books crumble slowly to dust, or are damaged, stolen, or lost.

What once seemed at least debatable has now become irrefutable: If it’s not online, it’s invisible. While increasing numbers of long-out-of-date, public-domain books are now fully and freely available to anyone with a browser, the vast majority of the scholarship published in book form over the last 80 years is today largely overlooked by students, who limit their research to what can be discovered on the Internet… [T]he vast majority of the scholarship published since 1923 (the date before which titles are in the public domain in the United States) is now effectively out of reach to the modern student….

It has taken many months for the import of the [Google Book] settlement to become clear. It is exceedingly complex, and its design — the result of two years of negotiations, including not just the parties but libraries as well — is, not surprisingly, imperfect. It can and should be improved. But after long months of grappling with it, what has become clear to us is that it is a remarkable and remarkably ambitious achievement.

It provides a means whereby those lost books of the last century can be brought back to life and made searchable, discoverable, and citable. That aim aligns seamlessly with the aims of a university press. It is good for readers, authors, and publishers — and, yes, for Google. If it succeeds, readers will gain access to an unprecedented amount of previously lost material, publishers will get to disseminate their work — and earn a return from their past investments — and authors will find new readers (and royalties). If it fails, the majority of lost books will be unlikely ever to see the light of day, which would constitute an enormous setback for scholarly communication and education.

The settlement is a step forward in solving the problem of “orphan works,” titles that are in copyright but whose copyright holders are elusive, meaning that no rightsholder can be found to grant permission for a title’s use. For such books, a professor cannot include a chapter in a course pack for students; a publisher cannot include an excerpt in an anthology; and no one can offer a print or an electronic copy for sale. Making those books available again is a clear public good. Google’s having exclusive rights to use them, as enshrined in the current settlement, however, is not….

First and foremost, the settlement is about discovery: a basic restoration of books to our literary landscape that enables readers to find what they once would have missed…  Many publishers will not have the mission nor the means to overcome the formidable obstacles involved in giving their print backlists an online life. But whether the lost scholarship is made available through the settlement or also through the activities of publishers, the means may be different, but the end is the same. The settlement gets authors, readers, and publishers farther and faster than if we had been left solely to our own devices….

To be clear, as noted above, the settlement is certainly not perfect and the solution to dealing with orphan works is particularly problematic: Google should not have the exclusive ability to exploit those works, and further refinement is needed to ensure that the Book Rights Registry can license those titles to others besides Google. Yet it also seems more likely that orphan-works legislation will be forthcoming if the settlement goes ahead. And it is important that all of the participants to the settlement, and especially Google, should now publicly commit themselves to supporting the needed new legislation in meaningful ways. We may also find the orphan-works issue diminishing in scale over time, as rightsholders come forward, should the program be successful….

We cannot now predict all of the places where the settlement will take us, which should make us understandably cautious. But even as we debate the important issues surrounding it, we must not shirk our responsibility to take forward-thinking, tangible steps now — today — by conjuring perilous futures and retreating to the safety of inaction and paralysis….

So we at Oxford University Press support the settlement, even as we recognize its imperfections and want it made better. As Voltaire said, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien,” the perfect is the enemy of the good. Let us not waste an opportunity to create so much good. Let us work together to solve the imperfections of the settlement. Let us work together to give students, scholars, and readers access to the written wisdom of previous generations. Let us keep those minds alive.

The full essay appears on the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“The small details of common life give actuality, aliveness, and thickness to a historical story…”

John Crowley, the author I blogged about last month, has written an excellent essay for the Powell’s Books website on doing historical research for his new novel, Four Freedoms. Here’s an excerpt:

How much did a condom cost in 1944? What did the package look like? Where could one be bought? Were there machines in the toilets (we called them toilets) of bars, as there were in the late 1950s? I was writing a novel about the U.S. home front in World War II (Four Freedoms, just out), and I needed to know. Why not just skip the detail, and say, “He bought a condom” or “He produced a condom”? Because the small details of common life give actuality, aliveness, and thickness to a historical story in the same way they do to a present-day story. The difference is you have to go find the details of the past; you can’t just draw on experience.

The writers of historical fictions, just like real historians, do (or ought to do) a huge amount of research before beginning on their works, and then continue doing research until the very end. They are, however, often looking for different stuff. The reasons for things, the reasons that people believed they had for acting as they did, the forces pressing on them that they dimly grasped or didn’t, a chronology that puts cause before effect — that (I imagine) is what the historian spends her research time looking for. Except when tiny details of action matter very much (at exactly what hour was that telegram sent?), the minutiae of dress and dinner, how a character spent his morning or evening, the maker of her gown and how much it cost, aren’t the goal. The fiction researcher’s work is the opposite, or mirror image (as historical fiction is the mirror of history — the same stuff but not). What the fiction researcher wants is masses of actual detail, whether pertaining to his characters (if his characters are historical) or to others like them. He cares less what everybody did, or what masses of people did, than about what was possible to do. He cares less about what an actual person did than what any person could have done: could someone like the one I am imagining have thought this thought, owned this gun, remembered this event, worn this hat? He needs the stuff to help him make a world of the past that is as believable as one made out of the present.

Of course, writers of fiction can be more or less conscientious about their research. (Though, they can’t be exposed as frauds if they get the details, or even the big picture, wrong; they start out as frauds.) Some care a lot, others less; Walter Scott, who in a sense invented the historical novel, often footnoted his stories, to back up his inventions with evidence. Fiction writers can always claim that detailed research is unnecessary or peripheral to their work — but they can no longer claim that it’s too hard. I don’t know if the Internet in all its glory and some of its shame has changed things utterly for professional historians — if it has, they may not be telling — but it has made research for a writer of historical fiction a piece of cake: that sweet, that delightful, that filling.

And it’s not only Google and Project Gutenberg and JSTOR. I used those tools almost every day, following leads from place to place and having strange adventures with collectors, memoirists, visionaries, merchants, and obsessives (try writing anything about old cars, railroads, airplanes, World War II, or comic books, without turning them up). But I also had the help of the readers of my blog (John Crowley Little and Big on Live Journal), who are an inordinately smart bunch, I think, and ready to go look things up and bring them in. We’ve had some wonderful interchanges — like the time I needed to know how much a condom cost in 1944…

The great danger in all historical research, for the lover of trivia and oddity, is distraction; it’s one of the rewards, too….

You can read the whole essay, titled “The Accu-Thump of Googletarity,” here.

Google and antitrust and censorship, oh my!

Lots of interesting book-related news, articles, and posts over the last week or so:

The controversy over Google Book Search

In the months since the Google Book Search settlement was announced, there has been a lot of commentary, criticism, and debate about it.  If you’d like to read more about the controversy, below is a collection of links to some interesting articles, essays, and blog posts.  (Here’s my original October 28, 2008 post on the subject right after the settlement was announced. My initial reaction was very positive, but I do have some concerns and opinions which I’ll save for a future post. )

New York Times articles:

April 4, 2009 article, “Google’s plan for out-of-print books is challenged.”

February 1, 2009 article, “Some fear Google’s power in digital books.”

January 4, 2009 article, “Google hopes to open a trove of little-seen books.”

October 28, 2008 article, “Google settles suit over book-scanning.”

Commentary and criticism:

Walt Crawford’s “Perspective: The Google Books Settlement,” a 30-page analysis and summary of commentary by others in the March 2009 Cites & Insights newsletter.

Robert Darnton’s  “Google & the Future of Books” in the New York Review of Books (February 12, 2009), and letters in response to Darnton’s essay.

Jonathan Grimmelmann’s “How to Fix the Google Book Search Settlement” in the April 2009 Journal of Internet Law.

Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Reader’s Guide to the Google Book Search Settlement.”

Jonathan Band’s “A Guide for the Perplexed: Libraries and the Google Library Project Settlement” (November 2008).

Charlie Petit’s commentary on his Scrivner’s Error blog.

In March 2009 a conference was held at Columbia Law School called “The Google Books Settlement: What Will it Mean for the Long Term?” The blog Open Access News has a summary of blog comments about the conference. More on the conference from the LibraryLaw Blog (part 1 and part 2).

If you have any link suggestions or opinions you’d like to share, please do so in the comments to this post.

I’m shocked to discover there’s gambling in this casino…

I recently read the February 2009 Project Information Literacy Progress Report from the Information School at the University of Washington, titled “Finding Context: What Today’s College Students Say about Conducting Research in the Digital Age.”

The goal of the project is to “understand how early adults conceptualize and operationalize research activities for course work and ‘everyday use’ and especially how they resolve issues of credibility, authority, relevance, and currency in the digital age.”

While I admire these goals and am obviously interested in the subject, I wasn’t surprised by the findings, and I found some of the quotes from students unintentionally funny.

The report begins by asking:

What is it like to be a college student in the digital age? In a world teeming with information technology and overflowing with access to data, how do students find the information they need? How do students conduct research for course-related assignments? How do they conduct research for use in their everyday lives? What frustrations and obstacles do they encounter? What strategies have students developed to meet their information needs?

Their conclusion?

So far, we have found that no matter where students are enrolled, no matter what information resources they may have at their disposal, and no matter how much time they have, the abundance of information technology and the proliferation of digital information resources make conducting research uniquely paradoxical: Research seems to be far more difficult to conduct in the digital age than it did in previous times… In general, students reported being challenged, confused, and frustrated by the research process, despite the convenience, relative ease, or ubiquity of the Internet. In our sessions, frustrations included the effects of information overload and being inundated with resources, but more. Participants also reported having particular difficulty traversing a vast and every-changing information landscape. Specifically, participants greatest challenges were related to finding the materials they desired, knew existed, and needed on a “just in time” basis.

Some specific findings:

  • Students treat everyday life research and course-related research differently, and they put a lot more time and effort into the former. “Students reported that searches for everyday life information could last for days, and were driven by curiosity, as students clicked on Google results or Wikipedia citations and unfolded layers of information.”
  • Students “reported almost twice as many frustrations, overall, with conducting course-related research than with everday life research, though the nature or type of participants’ frustrations had underlying similarities.” Everyday life frustrations included: too many results from a Google search and the need to sort through them; knowing the “answer” is online but not being able to find it; figuring out whether a source is credible; knowing that everything is not online; and never can find enough information on the obscure topic being searched. Course-related frustrations included: information overload; too much irrelevant information, can’t locate what is needed from online results; trying to find the “perfect” source; not knowing what to look for, yet still sifting through articles that might fit; trouble finding books needed on library shelves; and conducting research to meet another’s expectations.
  • Students begin their course-related research with Wikipedia. They begin their everyday life research with Google, followed by blogs and Wikipedia.
  • “The majority of the students we interviewed did not start on an assignment–thinking about it, researching, or writing–until two or three days before it was due.”

The study authors note that for students, conducting research “may feel a lot like being an inexperienced sailor heading directly into an oncoming wind, sails wildly flapping, and not being able to maneuver and get to a desired destination.” They believe this is because students are struggling to “find context,” and they go on to describe four types of context students seek: big picture; language, situational, information gathering.

But what do students do to find context? They use Wikipedia, despite its flaws and warnings from their professors. “We found the majority of students ignored the negatives and went to the site anyway. Most students depended on and used Wikipedia for information cited in papers, but just never included Wikipedia entries on their Works Cited page. In our sessions, students also discussed concerns over Wikipedia and accuracy. However, most participants believed that they, themselves, had the ability to discern the credibility of a Wikipedia source, based on their ‘gut level’ interpretation of Wikipedia’s rating system.”

Surely it isn’t a surprise that:

  • Students always procrastinate and are looking for quick and easy answers.
  • Students spend an unlimited amount of time and effort on things that interest them, but do the minimum necessary on academic assignments.
  • Students universally use the two tools that are the most convenient, familiar, and useful to them– Wikipedia and Google– and they will continue to do so regardless of what their professors say.
  • Students don’t know or haven’t been taught how to do research, think critically, find and evaluate sources (online and in the library), and efficiently sift through the overwhelming amount of available information to find what they need.

I wrote in my very first blog post, “Research is like treasure hunting, and to do it well you must be skeptical, curious, discriminating, persistent, and willing to look beneath the surface.” Research also requires time and patience, but it is a skill that can be learned with a little knowledge and practice. However, research is much easier to do when motivated by a love of learning, intellectual curiosity, and passion for your subject, rather than obligation.  Even I don’t like researching subjects I find boring. So while we clearly need to teach students how to do research, we should also be giving them assignments that not only educate them, but also interest and inspire them.

A fascinating post last month in the blog In the Library with the Lead Pipe gave a librarian’s perspective on this, discussing some of the “questionable assignments” given to students by well-meaning faculty members:

Every semester there is at least one assignment that comes across my reference desk that makes me throw my hands up in exasperation (such as: a scavenger hunt that was written before we moved much of our content online or the requirement that the student must have at least one print source, library databases and ebooks do not count)…

We kept getting students who had the same (admirable) weekly assignment: find and read a newspaper article covering the event they were studying that week. The article (or possibly other primary source document) had to have been written during the time of the event and from the perspective of the people involved. We had been doing fine helping them find historical and foreign papers as needed, until they came to the Ottoman Empire. And it didn’t stop there. The class was a survey of world history. They continued to have topics that simply might not have ever been documented by the people involved, unlikely in newspaper article form, certainly not in English, and may not have ever been translated into English if it did manage to get written down and preserved. African events were also particularly difficult…

Scavenger hunt assignments are frustrating for everyone. Looking up trivia is not the same as conducting research and without a meaningful application of the process of using the library anything they learn through the scavenger hunt is less likely to stick…

Often the student, the faculty, or both don’t differentiate between the free web and resources that the library has purchased, but are available electronically…

Librarians are on the front lines of this battle, and both students and faculty would benefit from using them more as a resource.

It looks like I now have lots of subjects for future blog posts…

Great news about Google Book Search

Like everyone else, I use Google dozens of times a day. Their web search engine is still the best I’ve found, but Google also has a number of more specialized search functions that I like and use regularly. By far my favorite is Google Book Search, which is not one of the main functions listed on Google’s home page, but it will appear if you click the “more” link.

Google Book Search enables you to search the full texts of all of the books stored in its database, which is made up of books scanned from the collections of cooperating libraries (including Harvard University, Oxford University, and the New York Public Library, to name a few) and digital book files submitted by publishers. For books in the public domain (published in the U.S. before 1923), you can read as much of the text as you like online, download a PDF file of the entire book, and print as many pages as you want. For books still under copyright, if the author or publisher has given permission, you may be able to view a limited number of pages (though you cannot print or copy any of the text), but most books are restricted to only a few lines or no preview at all. Google displays detailed information about each book, and you can see a list of libraries that have it or buy a copy from an online bookstore.

I love Google Book Search because it helps me discover extremely useful and interesting books of all kinds– old and new, in-print and out-of-print, primary and secondary sources, and valuable sources of information long neglected or forgotten. I love having instant access to complete works in the public domain that are out of print and not available through my local libraries. I love being able to search the texts of millions of books simultaneously for words or phrases– names, places, dates, subjects, titles, historical events, etc.

Google Book Search has always been controversial because it scans books still under copyright without obtaining permission from the authors and publishers, and Google has been sued by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over it. The great news is, according to Publishers Weekly, the lawsuits have been settled, and everyone wins– millions of books under copyright will be searchable online, there will be a way to purchase full online access to many copyrighted works, the full texts of out-of-print books will be viewable for free on library computer terminals, authors and publishers will control whether or not their works are included and share in the revenue generated through online access to their works, a nonprofit Book Rights Registry will be set up, etc. As both a researcher and the wife of an author, I am thrilled.

Here are excerpts from the AAP statement detailing the settlement:

The Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and Google today announced a groundbreaking settlement agreement on behalf of a broad class of authors and publishers worldwide that would expand online access to millions of in-copyright books and other written materials in the U.S. from the collections of a number of major U.S. libraries participating in Google Book Search….

The agreement promises to benefit readers and researchers, and enhance the ability of authors and publishers to distribute their content in digital form, by significantly expanding online access to works through Google Book Search, an ambitious effort to make millions of books searchable via the Web. The agreement acknowledges the rights and interests of copyright owners, provides an efficient means for them to control how their intellectual property is accessed online and enables them to receive compensation for online access to their works.

If approved by the court, the agreement would provide:

  • More Access to Out-of-Print Books — Generating greater exposure for millions of in-copyright works, including hard-to-find out-of-print books, by enabling readers in the U.S. to search these works and preview them online;
  • Additional Ways to Purchase Copyrighted Books — Building off publishers’ and authors’ current efforts and further expanding the electronic market for copyrighted books in the U.S., by offering users the ability to purchase online access to many in-copyright books;
  • Institutional Subscriptions to Millions of Books Online — Offering a means for U.S. colleges, universities and other organizations to obtain subscriptions for online access to collections from some of the world’s most renowned libraries;
  • Free Access From U.S. Libraries — Providing free, full-text, online viewing of millions of out-of-print books at designated computers in U.S. public and university libraries; and
  • Compensation to Authors and Publishers and Control Over Access to Their Works — Distributing payments earned from online access provided by Google and, prospectively, from similar programs that may be established by other providers, through a newly created independent, not-for-profit Book Rights Registry that will also locate rightsholders, collect and maintain accurate rightsholder information, and provide a way for rightsholders to request inclusion in or exclusion from the project.

Under the agreement, Google will make payments totaling $125 million. The money will be used to establish the Book Rights Registry, to resolve existing claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees. The settlement agreement resolves… lawsuits [that] challenged Google’s plan to digitize, search and show snippets of in-copyright books and to share digital copies with libraries without the explicit permission of the copyright owner.

Holders worldwide of U.S. copyrights can register their works with the Book Rights Registry and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales, ad revenues and other possible revenue models, as well as a cash payment if their works have already been digitized.

Libraries at the Universities of California, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Stanford have provided input into the settlement and expect to participate in the project, including by making their collections available. Along with a number of other U.S. libraries that currently work with Google, their significant efforts to preserve, maintain and provide access to books have played a critical role in achieving this agreement and, through their anticipated participation, they are furthering such efforts while making books even more accessible to students, researchers and readers in the U.S. It is expected that additional libraries in the U.S. will participate in this project in the future….

“It’s hard work writing a book, and even harder work getting paid for it,” said Roy Blount Jr., President of the Authors Guild. “As a reader and researcher, I’ll be delighted to stop by my local library to browse the stacks of some of the world’s great libraries. As an author, well, we appreciate payment when people use our work. This deal makes good sense.”

“This historic settlement is a win for everyone,” said Richard Sarnoff, Chairman of the Association of American Publishers. “From our perspective, the agreement creates an innovative framework for the use of copyrighted material in a rapidly digitizing world, serves readers by enabling broader access to a huge trove of hard-to-find books, and benefits the publishing community by establishing an attractive commercial model that offers both control and choice to the rightsholder.”

“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Today, together with the authors, publishers, and libraries, we have been able to make a great leap in this endeavor,” said Sergey Brin, co-founder & president of technology at Google. “While this agreement is a real win-win for all of us, the real victors are all the readers. The tremendous wealth of knowledge that lies within the books of the world will now be at their fingertips.”

Updates:

Here is Google’s blog post about the settlement.

Here the future changes to Google Book Search resulting from the agreement are explained.