Karen Coyle posted “Walt Crawford should read the document” on May 10, 2009 on her blog, Coyle’s InFormation.
Note two things about that sentence:
- It includes a direct link to Coyle’s post.
- I include the name of Coyle’s blog correctly, spelling and all.
Now consider the first paragraph of Coyle’s post, reproduced here exactly as it appears:
In his March, 2009 Cites & Insites, Walt Crawford does a roundup of comments on the Google/AAP settlement, and gets very agitated when reviewing some of my posts. I’m used to that. But agitation tends to cancel out reason, and Walt gets some things wrong that he might have understood better if he had kept a clear head.
No link–but then, how could there be a link, since there’s no such publication as “Cites & Insites”? (I don’t regard “Insites” as a word and assuredly would not use it for an ejournal.)
The March 2009 Cites & Insights (volume 9, number 4) consists of an essay on a proposed settlement involving Google, AAP, and the Authors Guild (not just Google and AAP). I regard that essay as considerably more than “a roundup of comments.”
I’m not sure whether Ms. Coyle is used to people in general getting agitated when reviewing her posts or whether that’s specifically aimed at me, but the last sentence is unquestionably aimed at somebody named Walt Crawford.
The suggestion that I was unable to reason clearly because I was so agitated by Ms. Coyle’s comments is either insulting or patronizing; your choice. It’s also false. (I checked the indexes for Cites & Insights. Except for March 2009, every time I’ve quoted or commented on Karen Coyle it’s been entirely positive comment–so I have to assume that other people get agitated by her comments. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.)
There is an ornithologist named Walt Crawford in the Midwest, director of the World Bird Sanctuary. In the overall scheme of things, that Walt Crawford (we have the same middle initial, but I’m not a “Jr.”) is probably more important to the world than I am–but he has a somewhat lower web profile. I’m pretty sure we’re both members of the Nature Conservancy… Still, I doubt very much that St. Louis’ Walt Crawford has a publication named Cites & Insites or that he wrote about the proposed Google Book Search settlement.
Still…there’s enough wrong with Ms. Coyle’s first paragraph (in a post that appeared nearly three months after the essay in question) that it’s tempting to leave it at that. If Coyle can’t be bothered to link to the essay being criticized or name the publication properly, and if she finds it necessary to patronize me in the post title and the lead paragraph, why should I take her comments seriously? (She knows how to do links: there are two links in the post. I can only assume that the decision not to link to my essay is deliberate.)
[Why did it take me two weeks to respond? Anyone who's followed this blog or my FriendFeed feed knows: Since May 10, I've been spending nearly all my energy moving to a new house--and from May 14 through May 18, I didn't have internet access. Also, I recognized right off the bat that a hasty response was a bad idea.]
A quick exercise
Before reading this response further, you should read the commentary. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest reading the whole essay (including but not limited to “Putting on several hats” on pp. 4-5)–but since I’m being charged with agitation and loss of reason, you could focus on pages 20-25. Consider particularly the language in “Google/AAP settlement” (pp. 20-21) with its “Ping!” refrain and the right-hand column on p. 21 (from “…this is the pact with the devil” through “THIS IS EVIL“).
If, after reading the extensive quotations from Coyle and my brief interspersed comments, you find that Coyle is consistently cool and logical whereas I’ve gone off the deep end and gotten things wrong, then it may not be worth your while to read the rest of this.
But as I reread it, twice, I see no agitation on my part, and less rhetorical fervor in my notes than in some of Coyle’s commentary. Maybe Coyle wasn’t agitated in those posts, but it certainly reads that way–or is it that Coyle is allowed to be agitated but I’m not?
What of my comments does she object to?
All libraries as well-curated collections
In questioning the need for Google to digitize based on deliberate collection-building, I say “I don’t know of any big academic library or public library that’s a single disciplinary collection–or, realistically, a set of well-curated collections.” (Coyle omits the italics in “any.” No biggie.)
Coyle says “an academic library is INDEED a set of well-curated collections.”
Really? Good academic libraries include well-curated collections, but I’ll suggest that most big ones contain a lot of materials outside that set of collections, particularly for libraries using lots of standing orders and approval plans. [OK, I spent too many years at UC Berkeley. If anyone suggests to me that the Doe Library is entirely a set of well-curated collections, I'd probably snigger, much as I love and respect the library.]
But that’s a matter of definition–what constitutes “well-curated”? I could have simply taken issue with Coyle’s lead sentences in the paragraph in question:
So the main reason why Google Books is not a library is that it isn’t what we would call a “collection.” The books have not been chosen to support a particular discipline or research area…
Even if I overstated “any,” Coyle’s implicit definition of “library” here excludes an enormous number of libraries. If Coyle wants to say that “Google Books is not a research library,” I probably wouldn’t object–but “research library” and “library” are not synonymous.
I said “I don’t remember public universities admitting to substantial costs in cooperating with Google.”
Coyle says “Dan Greenstein estimated $1-2 per book”–and offers a link.
The article linked to says no such thing. It says that Greenstein estimated Google’s scanning costs at $1 or $2 per volume. Here’s the link: read it for yourself. (It’s a Daily Cal article. Depending how you read it, Greenstein might have been estimating a cost for cooperating with Google elsewhere in the article, but certainly not as quoted by Coyle–and, frankly, I can’t be sure just what the article is saying about the UC costs of the Google project. In any case, it wouldn’t have been an admission: This article appeared before UC joined the project. It would have been a forward estimate.)
I’ll stand by my statement: I don’t remember public universities admitting to substantial costs in cooperating with Google. (The first three words represent a caveat–maybe somebody somewhere said it and I don’t remember or never saw it. Greenstein did not say it, at least not as quoted from the cited article.)
Changing library use of libraries’ own material
Adding one brief paragraph to a long Coyle quotation, I asserted that nothing in the proposed agreement changes the ways libraries use their own material.
That’s a factual statement. Coyle’s criticism:
Not of their hard copy materials, but legal minds think that this changes the landscape for digitization and the use of digitized materials, even closing some options that might have been available before.
She quotes one such legal mind. Is there unanimity or overwhelming consensus? I don’t know (although I’m pretty nearly certain that there isn’t)–but it’s irrelevant to my simple, factual statement.
Privatization, profiles and abusing the language*
Coyle said in one of her original post that “The digitization of books by Google is a massive project that will result in the privatization of a public good: the contents of libraries.”
I objected to that sentence, “as I’ve taken issue consistently with the same claim by others with even higher profiles than Coyle (who are even less likely to ever admit they could be mistaken).” Coyle takes me on for not making the “higher profile” people and adds this: “But thanks for letting me know that you consider me a ‘lower profile’ person, Walt.”
What? If I say Barack Obama has a higher profile than Rick Boucher, I’m not saying Rick Boucher is “a lower profile person”–except by comparison. If you want names, there’s Brewster Kahle and Siva Vaidhyanathan–and yes, I do consider them higher profile. (Based on Coyle’s post that I’m commenting on here, however, I withdraw the parenthetical clause in my comment.)
I went on to say the “privatization” claim was “Nonsense. Sheer, utter nonsense. The libraries and contents will still be there. OCA will still be there. I’m sorry, but this one just drives me nuts: It’s demonization of the worst kind and an abuse of the language.”
There is general agreement that Google gets a monopoly…at least on out-of-print books.
Based on this “general agreement” she says the claim of monopoly “is a factual statement.” I haven’t seen any sort of unanimity on this claim, and I wasn’t aware that consensus constituted fact–but in any case, that has nothing to do with the wording I objected to: “privatization of a public good: the contents of libraries.”
Did Ansel Adams privatize the great views in Yosemite by taking photos that are so iconic they’ve made it difficult for anyone else to do as well? Obviously not; he created something by using a public good, and in doing so enhanced the public good (making Yosemite more popular).
If I go to a library, check out some books, and create something new based on those books, it would be nonsense to say I’d privatized the contents of the library. If I built an index by going through each book, and then returned the books, it would be nonsense to say I’d privatized the contents of the library.
How is Google’s project different? The books are on the shelves, at least as accessible as they were before Google scanned them…and realistically a lot more accessible.
The public good is not in any way diminished or privatized. If a possible future extension of the public good is less likely because Google has a first-mover advantage or because the language of the settlement gives them advantageous treatment, that’s a very different thing.
Preservation and longevity
Discussing issues of preservation and longevity, I said:
Wonâ€™t the fully-participating libraries have digital copies? I canâ€™t think of institutions with better longevity.
Here’s how Coyle begins her refutation of my comment:
To begin with, only fully participating libraries will have digital copies…
Since Coyle agrees that “fully participating libraries will have digital copies,” there’s really no point in going further. (If I say “All Honda Insights are hybrids” and someone begins a critique of that statement by saying “To begin with, only Honda Insights–among Hondas–are always hybrids”–there’s little point in continuing the discussion.)
…without discrimination and without liability
Here’s one where I may be wrong. I assumed Google wouldn’t argue with the idea of carrying all scanned books.
Coyle points out that the settlement does not oblige them to do so. Since this is the single case in which she’s asserting I would have gotten it right if I’d read the full 134-page settlement, I assume this is the genesis for the post’s title.
If we assume that Google was 100% responsible for the language of the settlement (which I do not) then I’m clearly wrong here. Let’s assume that I am.
I’ve been wrong before, I’ll be wrong again. If Coyle had pointed out this single case in a more temperate manner, I’d be delighted to include that in an update to the essay as a useful correction and expansion.
There are legitimate reasons for concern about the settlement
That’s what Coyle says.
I agree. I say so repeatedly in the March 2009 Cites & Insights.
If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have produced a 30-page issue: A one-paragraph note would have been sufficient. I certainly wouldn’t have guided people back to Coyle’s posts.
Coyle doesn’t think that anything she has said is “nonsense.” Sorry, but I have to disagree. The “privatization” line is nonsense–just as it’s always been when Prof. Vaidhyanathan uses it, just as it is when Brewster Kahle uses it. It’s an abuse of the English language, and by demonizing Google it gets in the way of improving the settlement and the situation.
Frankly, if it hadn’t been for the tone of Coyle’s post and her accusation that I’d lost a clear head, I might not have written this post at all. Coyle has provided valuable service over the years in analyzing the Google Books project and the proposed settlement.
*Postscript: The comments on this post include various defenses of “privatization” as an accurate and appropriate term. They make interesting reading, and I urge readers of this post to read all of the comments–and decide for yourself. (I’ll probably prepare a commentary in a future C&I, incorporating most or all of this post and its comments.)
I still regard “privatization of public goods” as an abuse of the language as used for anything in the proposed settlement. When you create something new based on public goods, leaving the public goods intact, I can’t find that to be privatization as I understand the word.
But I should also clarify that it’s not Karen Coyle’s coinage or distinctive usage–if I’m saying it’s nonsense on her part, I’m also saying it’s nonsense on the part of Siva Vaidhyanathan, Brewster Kahle and probably quite few others. Which, to be sure, I am.
It’s a shame that an argument over books uses the language so sloppily–but “privatization of public goods” has a distinctive harshness to it that more accurate terms might not.
This postscript does not attempt to cut off the discussion of the term. I think it’s a fascinating discussion. Do note that I regard comments here to be bound by the same CC license as the blog itself, meaning I can (and will) quote them in their entirety in Cites & Insights–and, of course, that anyone else can quote them for noncommercial use.