MORE LIKELY than not, chances are that you must have encountered Google Books when researching or browsing online. Thanks to Google Books, the process of finding research materials and gathering sources has been extremely expedited—it not only removes the need to meticulously pore over book by book at the library, but also provides access to books that are physically inaccessible. This comfort is only made possible due to the Library Project that Google Books initiated in 2004. This project is a visionary undertaking, partnering with more than 60 libraries around the world to digitize over 30 million books in 40 languages. Most recently, on Sept. 12, 2018, Yonsei University announced its partnership with Google Books as part of the Library Project. Through this, Yonsei became the first Korean institution to join the project in an ambitious venture to invest in the digital future to come.
Google Books Library Project: what is it?
The Google Books Library Project aims to access major libraries, scan their books, and establish a universal online library that is available to all. The project’s international reach appears to benefit all parties involved, allowing readers to find new books, publishers to find new audiences, and out-of-print books to still be circulated.
To achieve this, Google Books established a scanning center and developed its own technology to digitize the sources they retrieve from partner libraries. The scanning not only generates image files but automatically transcribes its contents into text form using the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. This technology has immediate implications for the users, allowing them to sort through thousands of books instantaneously by searching up key words or phrases—a significant, tangible benefit nonexistent prior.
However, much of the Google Books’ database is limited by the copyrights of the books. Users can have full access to the books under the public domain, while copyrighted texts can only be viewed partially. Texts can be viewed in three ways: Full View, Limited View, or Snippet View. Limited View releases a portion of the book as designated by the author or the publisher, while Snippet View releases the few sentences that are around the searched-for word or phrase. However, there are also books unavailable for preview altogether. The limited nature of accessibility has raised some criticism regarding the actual benefits of this project.
Future direction: what needs to be addressed?
Although Google Books sets out its Library Project with the idealistic goal of “organizing the world’s knowledge,” it also initiated a heated controversy over its copyright use practices in the United States. In 2005, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers sued Google Books for breaching the copyrights of their authors’ works. In turn, Google Books claimed that it only disclosed contents in line with the books’ copyrights. However, litigation between the two parties continued for years until the debate was finally settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015. The court deemed that Google Books’ use of the sources qualifies as “fair use,” thus granting Google Books the right to continue its Library Project within and beyond the United States. Nonetheless, debate is still on-going in terms of defining and standardizing the concept of “fair use” in a world where information is becoming increasingly available and accessible.
In order to gain insight into Yonsei University’s perspective on the copyright issue, The Yonsei Annals conducted an interview with Chae Jung-lim, the Administrative and Technical Services Team Leader at the Yonsei Library and Information Services. According to Chae, Yonsei University selected approximately 2,400 books, all copyright-free, thus rendering the controversy irrelevant to Yonsei’s case. However, copyright-free books are extremely limited—especially for the works published in the past few decades—as the Copyright Act in Korea protects the intellectual property of authors for 50 years after their deaths. Thus, controversies may arise once the school decides to start providing copyrighted sources. In response to such concerns, however, Chae assured that “the school will have further conversations with Google Books and other libraries in Korea before making final decisions to digitize copyrighted books.”
Yonsei’s participation: what can we expect?
Yonsei University plans to begin its services with Google Books by providing a selection of books that have already been scanned. “These scans are available online on our website, but they only exist in an image format, making it nearly impossible to find specific content,” says Chae. Through Google Books’ OCR technology, however, the school can digitize the texts within the books, allowing relevant information and sources to be easily found in the database or within specific books.
Yonsei’s selection of the aforementioned 2,400 books will almost exclusively focus on texts related to Korean Studies and Christianity. As a leading research institute in Korea, Yonsei is renowned for its rich collection of books on Korean history and culture; and as a school established by Christian missionaries, it also possesses a number of religious books. “Since Yonsei University is the very first Korean library participating in the Library Project, the school decided that it would be more meaningful if we provide sources original to Korea and its history,” explained Chae.
As a result of its participation in the project, the school expects to improve and stimulate research in the fields of Korean history and Christianity—not only augmenting Yonsei University’s reputation as a research institute, but also providing opportunities for Yonsei’s researchers to collaborate with researchers abroad who utilize Yonsei’s sources.
Yonsei’s libraries, however, have been undergoing transformations of their own, to which one could raise a question on whether the partnership would function as a remedy or a harm. On Oct. 8, 2018, professors of the Department of Library and Information Science issued a statement* criticizing the reduction in functions and services of Yonsei’s libraries. According to the statement, the following negative consequences rose to surface as a result of the school’s decision to lay off professional librarians: inefficiency in the financial management, disorganization of the administration, and reduced convenience in providing online services.
The effect of the Library Project on such concerns remains unclear. On the one hand, Yonsei’s partnership has the potential to exacerbate the existing issues by investing the resources reserved for internal administration in the digitization project. On the other hand, it also has the potential to solve them by employing more staff members to arrange books for the partnership and providing more resources to accelerate the efficiency of the transfers.
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As the first Korean university to participate in the Library Project, Yonsei expects to contribute to the cultural and linguistic diversity of Google Books’ archive. The school anticipates other library organizations in Korea to follow its example, thus expanding the online database of Korean sources for readers around the globe. This partnership not only marks Yonsei’s willingness to invest in a digital future of widely-accessible information, but also connects Korea with an ever-increasingly globalized world by promoting Korean Studies as a significant field of research.
*Original title of the statement: “The Position of Department of Library and Information Science Professors on the Reduction of the Yonsei Library and Information Services’ Function and Services”