Google & the Future of Books: An Exchange

To the Editors:

In his recent article criticizing the Google settlement [“Google and the New Digital Future,” NYR, December 17, 2009], Robert Darnton fails to acknowledge the significant role that libraries have had in the creation of Google Book Search as well as the concrete steps they are taking to address the sorts of concerns he raises. Libraries are using Google-digitized volumes to create the “truly public library” that he seeks, and these same libraries are taking responsibility for the preservation of Google-digitized volumes.

More than thirty research libraries have made agreements with Google to digitize their collections as part of their long-standing tradition of providing the highest level of access to scholarly materials. These libraries have worked successfully with Google to ensure the integrity of their physical collections and to digitize those collections in accordance with broadly held standards for digital capture.

Many of these institutions have also shaped a coordinated strategy for preserving and providing access to their growing digital collections. In 2008 a group of twenty-five research libraries including the institutions of the Big Ten and the University of Chicago, the University of California system, and the University of Virginia joined together to create HathiTrust ( specifically for these purposes. With the number of volumes digitized by Google soaring into the millions and with the expansion of Internet Archive and other digitization efforts, these libraries sought to ensure the long-term accessibility of this content.

The participating institutions, now including Columbia University, are committed to the persistence of the cultural record, and have centuries of experience in the public trust. The current members, whose collections make up 75 percent of all of the content in Google Book Search, underwrite the costs of this shared effort to preserve the published scholarly record in digital form, regardless of digitization vendor or source, on behalf of scholarship and the public good.

Providing for the long-term preservation and access of this content is no small task, yet the HathiTrust partners have had significant success in creating a secure environment in a short amount of time. HathiTrust’s mission is “to contribute to the public good by collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge,” and it is already doing so for nearly five million volumes. This number will increase by millions as libraries continue their digitization projects with Google and others.

HathiTrust is a public good and provides as much access to its content as legally possible. Nearly one million volumes of the current holdings are in the public domain and accessible to anyone with a Web browser. This number will grow as the overall number of volumes continues to grow. HathiTrust provides a suite of services to scholars and others, including full-text and bibliographic search across the entire repository. All of HathiTrust’s services are separate from Google’s. HathiTrust partners have undertaken ongoing copyright review of orphan works to open access to volumes that are, in fact, in the public domain. Thousands of these volumes have already been opened, as…

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