Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pardon my French

News is flying around the blog-o-sphere that the French have given up their fight against Google Books and have decided that they will embrace the Google Solution. This is simply not true, based on my reading of the "Rapport Tessier". Admittedly, my French is mediocre at best, but here's my reading of what is actually said in this report (with some quoted bits in case I've misunderstood).

Flash: Thanks to Jean-Marc Destabeaux, there is a translation of the executive summary (pp 38-41). Note that I also edited that text, so any beefs or corrections should be sent to me. Ditto take-down notices.

Among other solutions (continuing to develop Gallica, and continuing to contribute to the European digital library, Europeana), the report suggests that a partnership with Google that respects the role of the French National Library (BNF) MAY be possible. No such deal has been struck with Google, as far as I can tell. The report is an in-depth summation of the need for a digitization program in France, as well as the problems.

It is important to note that the role of the BNF is something that that does not exist in the US. The BNF is the official keeper and protector of the French cultural heritage, as far as intellectual products are concerned. The Library takes this role very seriously. France has a mandatory deposit law, and the BNF strives to have a copy of every book, journal, etc. ever published. France has a law that gives BNF the legal right to digitize its holdings for the purpose of preservation. It also has an orphan works law that specifically gives the BNF certain rights, although this report says little about the nature of that law.

I read the report as an excellent analysis of the many ways in which Google Books is at odds with the mission of libraries.
Une réponse inadaptée au regard des missions des bibliothèques

Preservation, equality of access, privacy... Google's program is lacking in all of these areas. The commercial goals of Google and the public goals of a national library are essentially at odds.

To me, the main thrust of the report comes from this:
Les bibliothèques françaises - en particulier la BnF - disposent d’atouts importants, qu’il ne faut pas sous-estimer dans le cadre d’une négociation avec un partenaire privé. (p. 17)

What this says is that libraries have a strong negotiating position with Google (that I think the authors of this report feel has not be fully exploited) because of the incredible value of their holdings. You could say that libraries have a monopoly of their own. Yet they seem to have traded their holdings for fairly meager returns in the contracts with Google.

The report talks about the need to make library materials findable on the Web, primarily through search engines. (p. 62) Gallica and Europeana are typical databases, part of the dark web. Google books are keyword indexed in Google, but not findable through other search engines. BNF does not want its "patrimony" bolstering a single commercial search engine, and one source of access is not enough -- if the library is to be available, it must be available generally.
S’il y a un rapport étroit entre Google et Google Livres, il reste que Google ne peut être considéré comme une modalité d’accès suffisante aux contenus de la bibliothèque numérique.
There is a section of the report on public/private partnerships. I believe that this is the source of the rumors, because it does suggest that a partnership with Google could be possible. That partnership, however, must respect that essential mission of the library.
- proposer à la société Google une autre forme de partenariat, fondé sur l’échange équilibré de fichiers numérisés, sans clause d’exclusivité ; (p. 38)
"... a different kind of partnership..." The "exclusivity" clause referred to relates to the contractual clauses that do not allow the participating libraries to share the files with third parties without Google's approval. Instead, the BNF proposes that such sharing must be allowed if libraries are to partner with Google so that they can make full use of the digital files to fulfill their mission.
L’autre difficulté tient à des limitations explicites, qui peuvent brider les initiatives de la bibliothèque pour renforcer l’accessibilité à son patrimoine numérisé. Ainsi, la bibliothèque ne peut partager ou fournir le contenu numérisé à une tierce partie sans avoir obtenu préalablement l’autorisation de Google... (p. 16)
I could go on and on, but I really hope that someone will translate this report (or at least the executive summary) because it is an excellent summarization of vast difference in goals between Google and libraries. It discusses the downsides of mass digitization, and proposes a mixed solution between mass digitization and curated digital collections.
La numérisation de masse est une voie possible, mais non exclusive, de la numérisation ; ses contraintes et ses limites, tout comme ses indéniables apports, doivent être aujourd’hui intégrés à toute réflexion poussée sur ce qui constitue les missions historiques des bibliothèques patrimoniales, tant en termes de conservation que de valorisation. C’est une des conditions nécessaires pour ne pas perdre le fil du débat.