Gnus of the Whirled – Google vs. The Librarians

gnu2Once again, the Google’s Gutenberg project is drawing ire – this time from the American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries. The organizations state that Google won’t safeguard reader privacy and that it would hold a virtual (sic) monopoly on a wide variety of texts.

I feel that both associations are crying sour grapes over Project Gutenberg. After all, why travel to a library when a virtual Library of Alexandria exists on the Internet? No library cards. No overdue books. No scowling librarians hushing me for cranking the volume up on my John Williams’ soundtracks. Libraries stand a lot to lose.

Not all of their considerations are mere complaints and that’s what I find troubling. A monopoly of these works funnels all kinds of monetary and informational revenue to Google. Imagine finding a list of seafood restaurants conveniently plastered across the banner while you’re reading Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, or popup ads touting New York State while reading Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. To be honest, I can’t imagine Google doing anything like that – the public backlash would be loud, long, and lush with all manner of rebuke.

Privacy is another matter. Everything on the web is measured, weighed, and watched. Your taste in books, how long you read them, and how often you read would all become the ore of data mining and that is the real gold of the Information Age.

Then there’s the whole issue of censorship. Back in the good, old days, all it took was a pair of scissors wielded by my school librarian to remove the juicier parts in the first chapter of Benchley’s Jaws. She could not, however, do the same for all the copies residing in the local Waldenbooks, which we High School seniors snapped up so that we could read what we were missing. But other things might happen. Given enough prudish public rage, Miller’s Tropic of Cancer might end up trimmed to get a PG-13 rating. And let’s not forget the Bible. Why not just rearrange some of the conflicting stuff to make it a smoother read? That is, by the way, part of the plot to my novel, The Gospel of Matthias Kent.

With all of this in mind, it’s up to us readers & writers to safeguard all things written – not just professional organizations or megacorps. Raise a ruckus if you see it happening because the books out in Project Gutenberg belong to us all.