I've gone back and forth on Google lately, from professing my desire to have Google's baby to recoiling at the company's tacit complicity with China's efforts to silence free speech. I'm still conflicted, but here's one more data point:
In defense of digital books and Google
... we absolutely must think beyond today. We know that these digital copies may be the only versions of work that survive into the future. We also know that every book in our library, regardless of its copyright status today, will eventually fall into the public domain and be owned by society. As a public university, we have the unique task to preserve them all, and we will.
As Thomas Jefferson well knew with his family fire, there are few more irreparable property losses than vanished books. Nature, politics, and war have always been the mortal enemies of written works.
Most recently, Hurricane Katrina dealt a blow to the libraries of the Gulf Coast. At Tulane University, the main librarysat in nine feet of water—water that soaked the valuable Government Documents collection: more than 750,000 items … one of the largest holdings of government materials in Louisiana … 90 percent of it now lost.
In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia decimated cultural institutions throughout the country. Khmer Rouge fighters took over the National Library, throwing books into the street and burning them, while using the empty stacks as a pigsty. Less than 20 percent of the library—home for Cambodia's rich cultural heritage—survived.
I know we cannot and should not imagine something like this happening in the U.S. But history tells us that such events have happened. The International Federation of Library Associations calls the Cambodia assault "one of the most complete destructions known in world history."
Now, with Google, the University of Michigan is involved in one of the most extensive preservation projects in world history.
Remember, we believed in this forever. We have been a leader in preservation and will continue to do so—I expect nothing less of Michigan. By digitizing today's books, through our own efforts and in partnership with others, we are protecting the written word for all time.