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Is Google Waging a Public Relations Campaign on Libraries?

Recently, Google representatives have initiated contact with members of the library community to explain, from their perspective, the proposed Google Book Search settlement agreement that was recently reached among Google, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Authors Guild.  Specifically, Google is reaching out to library leaders, likely in response to an increase in interest in the community and the press about the concerns libraries have raised in response to the proposed private settlement agreement.

You will recall that the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) filed comments on May 4, 2009, with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for the judge to consider in his ruling on the proposed settlement.  In that filing, the library associations asked the judge to exercise vigorous oversight of the interpretation and implementation of the settlement to ensure the broadest possible benefits from the services the settlement enables.  The associations also asserted that although the proposed settlement has the potential to provide public access to millions of books, many of the features of the settlement, including the absence of competition for the new services, could compromise fundamental library values including equity of access to information, patron privacy and intellectual freedom.

In response to questions we are receiving from our members about these potential “one-on-one” meetings with Google engineers and analysts who are developing Google Book Search and who will implement the agreement (if approved by the court), we are sharing some suggested questions to ask, should you decide to meet.

On the topic of equitable access to information, and more specifically pricing, the proposed settlement allows for differential pricing for different categories of institutions for subscriptions, why?  The settlement states institutional subscription pricing will be “based on comparable products and services.” Since no other comparable product or service currently exists, how will Google keep from disparities in access to its product if subscription prices are, or become, too expensive?  Finally, the Book Rights Registry established by the proposed settlement (and comprised of equal numbers of representatives for the authors and publishers), has been granted the oversight to settle disputes over pricing.  What, if any, mechanism would be available to libraries (as primary customers of the product), and individual consumers to dispute pricing?

With respect to patron privacy – what assurances, aside from a verbal commitment, does the library community, library patrons and the public interest have that their privacy rights will be protected?  The proposed settlement itself is silent on the topic of patron privacy rights, why?  Were the three private entities unable to reach agreement, in their closed deliberations, on a privacy policy?

Finally, with regard to intellectual freedom, the proposed settlement allows Google to omit up to 15% of in-copyright, not commercially available books it has scanned from libraries.  What criteria will Google use to determine which books are omitted from the product?  Will Google identify the books omitted and provide any explanation as to why?  How will Google keep from engaging in censorship as it is conceivable and even likely that both domestic and international pressure will be exerted upon them to censor books?

Of course, there are many other questions about the proposed settlement that we encourage you to discuss with your colleagues not only as you consider meeting with the Google representatives, but also decide whether you purchase a subscription to the product, should it become available in the future.  Over the past several months, since the proposed settlement agreement was announced, the library community has engaged in a number of activities to foster awareness and understanding of the settlement and its potential implications, and provide venues for discussion and questions from the community.  In addition, the ALA Washington Office has created an informational website for the library community on the proposed Google Book Search settlement.

Moving forward, it is important to remember that this proposed settlement that broadly outlines the terms and conditions Google, the AAP and the Authors Guild reached during private negotiations is not yet final.  Recently, the judge presiding over the case extended the deadline for filing comments to the court by four months to September 4, 2009, and scheduled a final fairness hearing for October 7, 2009.  Although the filing deadline was extended, the library associations moved forward with filing on May 4 (within the original deadline of May 7) to help inform the library community and the public as they consider this important and complex matter.

Contact: Corey Williams
Associate Director
ALA Washington Office
(202) 628-8410

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Jacob Roberts is the communications specialist for the ALA Washington Office.


  1. amac amac

    Thanks for the post and for the ALA’s decision not to oppose approval of the settlement.
    I’m Alexander Macgillivray and I work on the Google Book Search team. We have indeed been continuing our conversations with many libraries and library groups. As you know, we met with ALA and ARL representatives back in October of 2008 and have been continuing those discussions. We’ve also been meeting with our more than 20 library partners and other interested libraries. We strongly believe in the tremendous benefits this settlement agreement offers Google, authors, publishers, libraries and readers. If you are a librarian and would like to discuss the benefits the settlement, feel free to send email to me at amac at and we’ll arrange a time to talk. As for your suggested questions, here are some answers.
    Access to Information: The settlement agreement, if approved, will greatly increase access to information and the equity of that access to information. Once we begin to offer the models discussed in the settlement any library will be able to have easy access to much of the out-of-print works of the biggest libraries in the United States. The major research universities with their vast library collections, such as the impressive collections of the Universities of Michigan, California or Stanford will be much easier for others to access. Irrespective of whether a library acquires a subscription, any patron will be able to search, preview and easily find these books. Since one of the biggest historical problems with accessing information has been finding it, the free availability of search and preview will drastically improve finding tools for books.
    Though you don’t mention patrons with print disabilities in your question, I think it is important not to overlook them. These are patrons that currently feel the inequity of access most severely and for whom the settlement provides a huge leap forward as accessible versions of books will available to them. As Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Access to the printed word has historically been one of the greatest challenges faced by the blind. The agreement between Google and authors and publishers will revolutionize access to books for blind Americans.”
    Finally, even the most under-resourced public library will have the ability, albeit limited, to provide free access to the corpus. That means that people all over the country, no matter where they are or whether they are affiliated with universities, will have access to their outstanding collections.
    Each of these improvements in equity of access occurs even without any library acquiring a single subscription. As you note, we will also be providing subscriptions to libraries and pricing those subscriptions affordably, in bands which may be subdivided based on a subscriber’s Carnegie classification. This is how many subscriptions are priced and increases the ability of under resourced schools to be able to afford the subscriptions. We do not yet have an initial pricing plan for the institutional subscription (we don’t even know how many books we will have scanned at that point) but the agreement requires those prices to be “governed by two objectives: (1) the realization of revenue at market rates for each Book and license on behalf of Rightsholders and (2) the realization of broad access to the Books by the public, including institutions of higher education.” We strongly believe that broad access to this collection is of great benefit and we can bring arbitrate if we believe that this objective isn’t met.
    Privacy: As we have not yet designed the product, we have not yet designed its privacy protections. However, Google understands that privacy is important to libraries and their patrons and the settlement agreement provides us with the freedom to design privacy protections into the product (and we will). We’ll have more to say about this as we work through the product design.
    15%: A few people have completely misread Section 7.2(e) of the settlement agreement which sets a threshold in the provision of books under which Google must provide the entirety of its Library Project investment over to a third party to use. That Section was designed as a trigger for drastic consequences and it is something that none of the participants — not Google, not the authors or publishers, and certainly not the libraries — believe will ever come into play. To be very clear, Google does not plan to omit any books from the service, just as we have not omitted any books from our scanning based on their content or copyright status. Our record on access to other corpuses of information speaks to our commitment to access. For example, we continue to be the only search engine that clearly discloses and links to when we remove material from our search results — even for reasons that most librarians would consider not worthy of comment, such as for removals of child pornography. The settlement is about United States access and we are strongly supported by good United States law protecting speech. But you don’t have to take our word for it because Section 3.7(e) of the settlement agreement makes clear that our actions will be communicated to the Book Rights Registry and that they, along with the libraries, will be able to provide access to any editorially excluded books.
    I hope this answers your questions and would be happy to talk further with you or any of your members.

  2. […] is also very interesting to watch Google’s attempt to woo librarians by its public relations campaign. (I have not been contacted by Google yet, but may not be enough of a key player.) The American […]

  3. […] is also very interesting to watch Google’s attempt to woo librarians by its public relations campaign. (I have not been contacted by Google yet, but may not be enough of a key player.) The American […]

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