“Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.” – Agent Smith, The Matrix
Within hours of Google’s announcement that they were beginning an initiative to digitize the largest libraries in the US, most of the web had heard about it. Of course they had, Google is pretty much central to the global knowledge network.
Now, already, I think the impact of Google Scholar is being underestimated. I suspect that over the next three or four years, the scholarly search engine will have far-reaching effects on how scholars communicate. But once a significant number of books from the Stanford, Harvard, and New York City libraries are digitized, and added to the holdings of current books (Google Print), I think you will start to see some early unintended consequences:
1. Books that have entered the public domain will be cited far more often than those that have not. Since the hard part (digitization) has already happened, there will be no good reason for libraries, and especially the NYC public library, not to allow distanced access to their digitized collections that have been elevated to the public domain.
As a result, lazy people like myself are going to be more likely to cite the materials they can have immediate access to. We will have a mass rediscovery of fin-de-siecle scholarship.
2. Digitized books want to be free. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for all of these books to break out onto the p2p systems. Sure, it hasn’t happened with Amazon yet, but — come on! — it will. It’s just too juicy a target for educational Robin Hoods. And if the source code of Half-Life 2 can be stolen, it means that it is a question of when not if the digitized books will be pirated away.
I for one, welcome both of these. And in the meantime, the intended consequences are amazing to think of.
fn1. From now on, I am going to avoid the downward connotations of “falling out of copyright.”
fn2. Yes, I am fully aware that these won’t fit on someone’s jump drive. I am also aware that storage and transfer sizes continue to increase, and it just takes one to make it.