“The story of the most ambitious project ever conceived on the Internet. In 2002 Google began to scan millions of books in an effort to create a giant global library, containing every book in existence. They had an even greater purpose—to create a higher form of intelligence, something that HG Wells had predicted in his 1937 essay ‘World Brain.’ But over half the books Google scanned were in copyright, and authors across the world launched a campaign to stop Google, which climaxed in a New York courtroom in 2011. A film about the dreams, dilemmas and dangers of the Internet.” – Google and the World Brain site.

The TeleRead take: What if librarians, not corporate executives, had helped organize the dominant information-related infrastructure on the Net or at least the American parts?

For years, librarians and hackers talked of online libraries, inspired by the one and only Project Gutenberg. On July 6, 1992, I myself published a proposal in Computerworld (much evolved since).

The TeleRead plan called not just for a national digital library system but also also a major campaign to deal with digital divide issues and spread around the necessary hardware and technical expertise.

It is not too late for an updated version of the original TeleRead proposal in the U.S. and other countries. And, no, I don’t expect Google to fade away. Plenty of room exists for different business models, my strong preference. Furthermore, Google could be among the contractors to build full-strength national digital library systems here and elsewhere. But Google or any other contractors need close watching, as illustrated by my recent post Why can’t Google code? My Chrome browser still sucks. So does Gmail in major ways. If other companies can do the job better than Google, then fine—use them instead. Google’s current technical and business challenges show it is hardly godlike in all respects.

Related: National digital library endowment proposal makes Education Week and an analysis of the Google Books Settlement.


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