Google as Library Rhetoric

OK- Madisonian.net has some responses to my comments, and responses that don’t quite address what I was talking about (probably due to my unclear writing). The message is addressing the rhetorical argument of treating Google as a library, and asks the question, “What is a library?” Now, I do have an MLIS. I have studied libraries, I value the institution and I value the professional mission- and I don’t have an incredibly good answer to that question. More in a bit.

First, though, in respect to the copyright argument- I wasn’t really talking about the court of public opinion, or rhetorical arguments. I wasn’t using the term library colloquially. I was using the term library to mean a library that fulfills the requirements of Section 108 for the purposes of the library exemptions. I don’t think Google can fulfill those requirements at this point, and I don’t think they should try unless they change the way their contract works. I wasn’t making a value judgment about the usefulness or uselessness of calling Google a library, then. I will in a bit. That’s what I meant by a “real” fair use argument- not in terms of the authenticity of the argument, but in terms of a “real” fair use argument instead of a library exemption argument.

To clarify, I think it would be more useful to look at a fair use argument than a library exemption argument.

Now, the “What is a library?” question is one that is often discussed, obviously, in this field, as is the related question “What is a librarian?” In general, I think, the broader sense of information use and uses can be used to term something a “library,” but there isn’t really a consensus. Colloquially, of course, we all consider all kinds of things libraries, including personal collections and so on. In the more traditional sense, there are many types of libraries- special, public, academic, etc. These include private libraries and for-profit libraries. Now, there are unifying aspects of “librarianship” as it pertains to librarians, although they’re not quite absolute across the different areas of the profession. They’re probably best exemplified by the American Library Association and its values. There are also information professionals who have little to do with libraries as such. For example, we offer a number of courses involving information technology, human computer interaction, accessibility and usability, and so on. Some professionals consider what they do librarianship, and some don’t. Take a look at a recent librarian.net post about what Jessamyn does all day, which in a brief paragraph mentions that she doesn’t consider herself a librarian, a divide between professionals and paraprofessionals, and popular media portrayal of librarians. My perspective is probably best shown in my letter to the Texas Library Connection list. I have an MLIS, but I don’t consider myself a librarian. (Sorry, Siva. ^_-) I think that what a professional librarian does is different from what I do in my day to day activities.

No, I don’t think there is a simple “essence of a library” definition, particularly in the sense of a physical place. Some disagree. I don’t believe a library is defined by a librarian selecting materials, but I do believe there are practices that make a library a library. There’s lots of literature about the subject- I’ll see what I can dig up when I get a chance- but I don’t see an overwhelming consensus for a set definition. The commonalities, I think, the actual “essense” is best shown in shared values. Our values do tend to focus on the users, the people that use the services we work with.

In a rhetorical argument, or in the court of public opinion, yes, I think it would be useful to Google to be considered a “library,” merely because of the weight of the word and generally positive associations with the word. Even so, though, not all libraries can take advantage of copyright exemptions. For-profit libraries can’t, as an easy example. That’ s one reason I don’t think it matters- from a library exemption argument- whether or not Google is considered a library. Given Google’s recent behavior about this particular case, if the letter to Library Law is accurate, I don’t think it should be termed a library. Google’s service may be akin to a library’s service, but I don’t think calling Google a library in this case would really be beneficial or fair to libraries. Again, if the contract Google had with the universities was different, there’s a very good chance I’d back them. Generally, I really admire Google- just not in this instance.

Comments (2) left to “Google as Library Rhetoric”

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