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books while public entities, such as libraries, are allowed to pro-
vide free access for research and scholarship. Here his main ex-
ample is the Internet Archive s collaboration with Alexa, a
company founded by Kahle himself in 1996 and sold to Amazon
in 1999. Alexa ranks websites according to the tra c they attract,
and its ser vers, like Google s, constantly crawl the Internet, mak-
ing copies of each page they nd. But after six months, Alexa do-
nates those copies to the Internet Archive, which preser ves them
for noncommercial use. "Je [Bezos, Amazon s CEO] was okay
with the idea that there are some things you can exploit for com-
mercial purposes for a certain amount of time, and then you play
the open game," says Kahle. "Libraries and publishing have al-
ways existed in the physical world without damaging each other;
in fact they support each other. What we would like to see is this
tradition not die with this digital transfor mation."
So which alternative comes closest to Google s plans? Google
is no Corbis, says Wojcicki, but is nonetheless limited in what it
can share. "Door One was never our intention, nor is it even prac-
tical," she says. "And we can t do Door Three, because we re not
the rights holders for much of this material. So Door Two is proba-
bly where we re headed. We re trying to be as open as possible,
but we need to hold to our agreements with di erent parties."
Precisely to avoid questions about copyright, Oxford librari-
ans have decided that only 19th- and early 20th-century books
will be handed over to Google for digitization. "Some of the
other libraries, including Harvard, have agreed to have some in-
copyright material digitized," says Ronald Milne, acting director
of the Bodleian Library. "They are quite brave in taking it on. But
we didn t particularly want to go there, because it s such a hassle,
and we didn t want to get on the wrong side of the book laws."
At the same time, though, the American Library Association
is one of the loudest advocates of proposed legislation to rein-
force the "fair use" provisions of federal copyright law, which en-
title the public to republish portions of copyrighted works for
purposes of commentary or criticism. And two of Google s part-
ner universities---Har vard and Stanford---are also supporters of
the Chilling E ects Clearinghouse, a website that monitors alle-
gations of copyright infringement brought against webmasters,
bloggers, and other online publishers under the controversial
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. Mass digiti-
zation may eventually force a rede nition of fair use, some librari-
ans believe. The more public-domain literature that appears on
the Web through Google Print, the greater the likelihood that citi-
zens will demand an equitable but low-cost way to view the much
larger mass of copyrighted books. "I think this will be another
piece of good pressure, another factor in the whole debate over
the DMCA," says Wilkin.
The Mixing Chamber
If you re over 30, today s libraries are probably nothing like the
ones you remember from childhood. Enter any major library to-
day and you ll nd an armory of computers and a platoon of spe-
cialists, from the reference librarians who are expert at accessing
online resources, to the acquisitions o cers who decide which
books, CDs, DVDs, and subscriptions to purchase, to the com-
puter geeks who keep the building s network running.
Digitization and the growing power of the Inter net are mak-
ing all of these people s jobs more complex. Acquisitions experts,
for example, can no longer just rely on the traditional quality l-
ter imposed by the publishing industry; they must evaluate a
much larger mass of material, from newly digitized print books
to the millions of Web pages, blogs, and news sites that are born
digital. "On the Internet, publishing is a promiscuous activity,"
observes Abby Smith of the Council on Library Information and
Resources. "Libraries are confused and challenged about how to
collect and select from that material."
Then there are the problems of cataloguing and preserving
digital holdings. Without the proper "metadata" attached---
author, publisher, date, and all the other information that once
appeared in libraries physical card catalogues---a digital book is
as good as lost. Yet creating this metadata can be laborious, and
no international standard has emerged to govern which kinds of
data should be recorded. And considering the limited life span of
each new data format or electronic storage medium (have you
used a oppy disk lately?), keeping digital materials alive for fu-
ture generations will, ironically, be much more costly and com-
plicated than simply leaving a paper book on a library shelf.
But even if every book is reduced to a few megabytes of 1s and
0s residing on some placeless Web ser ver, libraries themselves
will probably endure. "There is no one in the eld of librarian-
ship who thinks the library is disappearing as a physical space,"
says Smith. Seattle s exuberant new Central Library, for exam-
ple, is built around a four-story spiral ramp that enables an un-
precedented immediacy of access to its physical book collection.
But at the same time, the library provides 400 public-use com-
puters (compared to 75 in the library that previously occupied the
site), buildingwide Wi-Fi access, and a high-tech "mixing cham-
ber" where an interdisciplinary reference team uses an array of
print and electronic resources to answer patrons questions.
More than 1.5 million people visited the new library in 2004---al-
most three times the entire population of Seattle.
"The real question for libraries is, what s the value proposi-
tion they o er in a digital future?" says Smith. "I think it will be
what it has always been: their ability to scan a large universe of
knowledge out there, choose a subset of that, and gather it for
description and cataloguing so people can nd reliable and au-
thentic information easily." The only di erence: librarians will
have a much bigger universe to navigate.
Stephen Gri n, the former director of the National Science
Foundation s Digital Libraries Initiative (a Clinton-era project
that funds a variety of university computer-science studies on
managing electronic collections), takes a slightly di erent view.
Ask him how he thinks libraries will function in 2020 or 2050---
once Google or its successors have nished digitizing the world s
printed knowledge---and he answers from the reader s point of
view. "The question is, how will people feel when they walk into
libraries," he says. "I hope they feel the same---that this is a very
welcoming place that is going to help them to nd information
that they need. As we bring more technology in, the notion of li-
braries as places for books may change a bit. But I hope people
will always nd them a comfortable place for thinking." ■
Wade Roush is a senior editor at Technology Review.
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