Google Books, diverging interests, and OpenURL

Peter Brantley notes some concerns about the Google Book Search settlement, especially regarding income from book sales.

I’d note one more thing I’m troubled by: Google’s share of  revenue from book sale links on a GBS page means it is NOT in Google’s interest to provide openurl links back to user’s local library catalogs for google books material. Many of these books can be obtained by our users for free from our libraries (many of them were digitized from our catalogs in the first place!).

We’d like to let our users to easily discover this about a given book (and easily access ILL services, if desired), before deciding to purchase the book. An OpenURL link to our institutional link resolver would do that.

But it’s in Google’s interest to have users in fact NOT discover local library availability, and instead choose to purchase the book.

Interestingly, Google does offer OpenURL links in Google Scholar, I wonder how they decided this was a good idea for them despite their commercial interests. But I don’t expect to see it showing up in GBS anytime soon, and wouldn’t be surprised to see it dissapear from Scholar.

Interestingly, Google does provide a link to Worldcat—as a result of a deal made with OCLC. I suppose eventually that might lead the user to her own library, but not very easily for them. There are a number of problems with this user work-flow, I could get into details. So we have OCLC making a deal to trade metadata largely contributed by US (what OCLC offered Google), for access to and visibility on GBS, consisting of text largely digitized from US (what Google offered OCLC)—with our actual individual library interests (that is, the proxied interests of our patrons) left out of the equation altogether, while other organizations benefit from our assets freely shared.

I still wonder if the particular deals libraries made with Google for digitizing books were really in our libraries’ long-term best interests.

What can we do?

But I can think of two main technical solutions for us to give our users easy access to library availability information and services (ILL) for materials they find in GBS:

1) LibX or similar browser plugins can be developed to add links to our library openurl link resolvers, or catalogs. Link resolver is better as it typically provides ILL service, but you’d need a link resolver like Umlaut that actually has useful catalog integration built in. Then we aggressively market LibX to our patrons. It’s a last resort to rely on a browser plug-in like this, but I think we’re in last resort territory.

2) Using the GBS data API, we could develop a seperate “front end’ for GBS which is essentially a proxy. It gives the users pretty much the same things that are in the actual GBS results, except with a link resolver link. We could encourage our users to use this search, to get library availability and services, instead of GBS native interface. This is something which easily could be deployed in a central shared way, by a library consortium or vendor (OCLC?) such that we can all share it, and it will direct each of our individual users to our individual library link resolver (using OCLC Registry; using ‘preferences’ in cookie as per Google Scholar; or using a directive given in a URL used to access. I wish worldcat would add this last method, so my off-campus users could get the link resolver links worldcat currently gives on-campus users).

I’m not sure if these would be allowed by GBS API terms of service, which are confusing and ambiguous. For that matter, whether or not it’s allowed now, if something like this were developed and it did hurt Google’s interests, they could change their terms at any time.

I hope libraries are finally getting over trusting Google to act in our interests, instead of theirs, or assuming these interests never conflict.

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One Response to Google Books, diverging interests, and OpenURL

  1. I’m a patron and I’m not at all bothered by the fact that Google Books links to WorldCat rather than my library network. In fact, I’m delighted. Assuming you have a WorldCat account and you’re logged in, WorldCat will show you your “favorite” libraries at the top of the search results anyway, so if I wanted to get to my library network catalog I’m only one more click away.

    But WorldCat has a number of clear advantages over the library network catalog. Unlike the network catalog, it has book lists, so from Google Books, I’m two clicks away from adding a book to a permanent list linked to my WorldCat account. WorldCat combines paperback and hard cover editions into one entry and the network catalog doesn’t. WorldCat also handles “books by the same author” better than the library network catalog: it’s one click in WorldCat, but two clicks in the network catalog.

    In theory, my library network catalog has access to availability information that WorldCat doesn’t, but the interface is so bad it’s barely useful. Search results only show hold counts, and don’t distinguish between unavailable and available. Even clicking through to the entry for a particular book might not show availability for my local library on the first page because my local library is near the bottom in alphabetical order and there’s no way to have it sort first.

    So while the ideal public library catalog might be better than WorldCat, the current catalog isn’t.

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