Thursday, July 30, 2009

Google and Civil Rights

Betsy's recent posts about the meeting convened at the Boston Public Library to discuss the Google Book Settlement were fascinating and whetted my appetite for more information on the topic. I was at AALL's annual meeting earlier this week and left on Tuesday. I wish I had known that the Institute of Intellectual Property and Social Justice of Howard University School of Law was sponsoring a forum the day after, Wednesday, July 29. I would have attended the forum, "Equalizing Access to Knowledge," which featured a number of very high-profile speakers, including Rhea Ballard-Thrower, Director of Howard's Law Library. The forum is discussed here and here. The speakers agreed that "Google's ambitious book digitization will democratize access to knowledge for members of minority and other underrepresented groups ... " Rhea was quoted at some length.

The idea that a student in Boston at a very exclusive private school can read the same books that a student somewhere in an underfunded, urban public school, that they can have the same access to the same materials is actually just amazing ... Books are the great equalizer.

I agree with Rhea, but question whether it should be the role of Google, a corporation, to equalize access to education and knowledge. Shouldn't that be the role of our public schools and libraries? The articles about the forum were generally very laudatory of the Google project, but did mention some of the objections to the settlement that have been raised, including possible antitrust violations, and issues surrounding "orphaned books" and privacy.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Good spotting, Marie! I had not seen this conference, even though I talked with Rhea while I was in DC at the AALL meeting. And the Berkman Center and Harvard held an interesting meeting to discuss what might the the outcome of the Google Book Settlement or what libraries and the world might best do even if the Google Book Settlement is approved to make the world a better place. See the papers that are coming out of the Open Workshop at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/googlebooks/Main_Page , titled, "Alternative Approaches to Open Digital Libraries in the Shadow of the Google Book Search Settlement."