The other day I realized that Google had finally put up a number of the books it had been scanning from a number of libraries (Harvard, Michigan, NY, Oxford). I know there has been a lot of controversy about this. Publishers contend that if Google has a database of every book it can get its hands on, then somehow people will stop buying books.
After using the service though, I am unequivocally on the side of Google in this. First, I think the chance of true copyright infringement is negligible. If you are only allowed to get excerpts for books that are copyright protected, it is no different than using any other indexing service. It is true that Google stands to make a lot of money from advertising revenue, but to me that seems a small matter when compared to the potential gains.
Those gains seem incredible and revolutionary. Books that are hundreds of years old will suddenly become part of the intellectual world again. For instance, I searched for the Ukrainian poet Taras Schevchenko and I found a magazine article from Macmillan’s written in 1885, twenty four years after Schevchenko’s death. Normally, this article would be lost to time. It would no longer be available to the general public and thus not a part of the overall dialogue. Now it has been revived. I only wish Google would copy faster.