The Digital Revolution and the Scholar: Auletta’s View


Ken Auletta’s new book, Googled: The End of the World as We Know it, examines Google as the driving force behind the digital revolution, changing everything in its wake. In an effort to identify the consequences of Google on the scholarly world, we are using Auletta’s book as a point of departure.

Readers are invited to contribute reactions to Auletta’s work.  Terry Gross’s recent interview with Auletta can be found by clicking here.


16 Responses to “The Digital Revolution and the Scholar: Auletta’s View”

  1. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    While I have not read Ken Auletta’s new book yet (it was just published Tuesday), I have read some advanced reviews/articles and heard several interviews with him about this work (in addition to Gross’s interview, for example, listen to the video of C-SPAN’s Q & A session with Auletta). Based on this material, it seems as if Auletta’s Googled focuses on Google’s corporate history (indeed, it is called a “corporate biography” on C-SPAN). Nor is this focus that surprising given Auletta’s earlier books such as World War 3.0: Microsoft and its Enemies. Still, his work touches upon issues that hold potential relevance to our work as scholars.

    While Auletta’s overarching aim is to explain how the Google revolution is changing “the [media] world as we know it”, academics could echo his subtitle and ask if digital developments and the speed of technological change are effecting “the end of the scholarly world” as we know it. Auletta points out that the failure of old media to respond or consider how to adapt has led to their demise. The academy also possesses a resistance to change. On a very broad level, several concepts seem to surface frequently such as “fear” (of Google by other entities, to point of demonizing it), “access” (idealistic view; in part tied to depiction of) and “free” (closely related to access as in “free access”). All of these words also represent recurring scholarly issues in discussions not only about Google but technological changes at large. Fear (whether justified or not) about the fate of reading, the decline (if not disappearance) of the book, the ability to manage information overload, and the control of knowledge, to name a few, is certainly a concern in academics (and indeed in segments of the culture at large). Access also generates multiple threads—lack of access for some, the promise of open access, the ease of access, and so forth—as does the notion of “free,” whether it is tied to access or to the overlooking of the costs involved in establishing, hosting, maintaining, and preserving electronic resources.

    The other day an academic journal publisher sent me a survey that contained a number of thought-provoking questions about open access. After asking how highly I valued open access as an author, the survey turned to questions about how I might be willing to support/fund open access. One question asked me to rank my preference for which method seemed best to finance open access. The six choices (roughly paraphrased) included

  2. 1) author is charged a per page-fee for each use
  3. 2) author is charged a fee for whole article for each use
  4. 3) eliminate professional copyediting and proofreading
  5. 4) eliminate the print format
  6. 5) add a fee to membership dues (have an association pay, in other words)
  7. 6) have the author’s institution pay per user access
  8. Questions like these are telling because they underscore the costs underlying “open access” and force us to consider what choices we are willing to make. They also raise questions whether the options with which we are presented are indeed the only ones. Or our choices limited by failure of imagination?

    Interestingly, Brin and Page failed to consider the authors and publishers when they created Google Books and undertook to digitize every book, which led to Google being sued. (Auletta notes in one interview that Page has no conception of what it means to be a writer or what publishing entails). Auletta emphasizes the importance that the Google founders’ rootedness in engineering has played in their ability to think outside the box, but this disciplinary thinking is also what has caused blind spots to emerge elsewhere.


  9. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Eleanor is right. Auletta’s Googled is a corporate biography of Google, and, as such, says very little about Google Books (about 5 pages are devoted to this topic). It is, nevertheless, well worth reading so as to mull over whether Google has ended the scholarly world as we know it. I found myself concluding that Google has changed the scholarly world in the following areas:

    The classroom. Google’s accessible search algorithm certainly affects what happens in the classroom, what students are willing to read, and even how well they read and research. We are now dealing with students who expect to find “knowledge” and “data” for free on the web. They are unfamiliar with the process of sifting through books or articles, and teachers have to direct students to scholarly databases, such as the MLA, JSTOR, Project Muse, or text-bases like EEBO, ECCO, and Burney. The idea of ordering an item from interlibrary loan is alien to them. So, too, is the experience of wrestling with facts, histories, and judgments necessary for research. And to return to online research, very few students seem to be asking themselves whether the Google search algorithm provides them with all the relevant hits they need.

    Libraries seem to have lost their magic for students. Perhaps it is more accurate to say they have lost their appearance of authority; the computer screen seems to offer more up-to-date information and its attractive distractions are irresistible. We need to work harder at linking research online with research in books and printed scholarly sources.

    Reading. I’d like to see more on how students today visually “scan” rather than read texts. They are able to absorb large quantities of facts; they seem less able to see and enjoy the intricacies of a novel’s narrative.

    Scholarly publishing seems to be coming to an end. I found myself wondering why we don’t have a form of online juried publication for scholarly material, saving printed material for reference books and trade books, and things that sell better than most academic books. Personally, I prefer reading books to reading screens. But the cost of scholarly books makes them too expensive for most libraries, let alone for individuals. So online scholarly publication with some kind of affordable print-on-demand service makes sense to me, as long as it’s credibly juried (and the last point is key).

    Culture. Auletta quotes Neil Postman’s contrast between George Orwell’s fears’s for the future and Aldous Huxley’s:

    Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think . . . . Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism (Auletta, 268; see also Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death).

    Insofar as our goal is to teach students how to think, we are up against the internet’s substantial attractions of passive entertainment.

    Finally, we need to do more of what we do in teaching students about the value of books as objects of both intellectual and physical value. Apparently, when Larry Page first envisioned a scanning device for Google Books, he used “his own 20 percent time [the 1/5 of the week Google grants its employees to devote to their own ideas for Google] to construct a machine that cut off the bindings of books and digitized the pages” (95). This will make us wince, as will Google’s appearance of disinterest in copyright, scholarly use, and access to our cultural heritage. I’m guessing that the scanning device evolved over time. Let’s hope they appreciate what they are scanning as more than a monetizing project.

    There is plenty more to discuss, including the plight of newspapers. But I’ll leave that for later.


  10. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Anna raises a number of issues well worth pursuing. While Google has certainly been at the forefront of momentous changes, other developments have also affected transformations in our scholarly world. I can think of email as a key example (see John Freeman’s The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox. Freeman is the editor of Granta, and I don’t think he is a Luddite), and now Twitter. Also (and perhaps a bit off topic), see Mark C. Taylor’s op ed piece, “End the University as We Know It” (New York Times, April 27, 2009) and Patricia Cohen’s
    “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth”

    It seems important to remind ourselves of the symbiotic relationships that historically have existed between old and new media as well as the ongoing process of remediation that occurs as print culture interacts with digital media.

    The Classroom Anna’s overview of changes affecting the classroom is on target with many of my experiences. I do think that many students are receptive to learning more sophisticated, discerning approaches to research, though. I also think that innovations such as electronic reserves has made students more willing to undertake reserves reading. Too often in the distant past I had students say that the print copies of readings were checked out or that the library was closed by the time they turned to see what reading was due for the class. I’ve had better success with having students do secondary reserve reading now that it’s accessible anytime.

    In addition to teaching students about these research processes, discussing the notion of “free” also seems importnat. I typically seldom miss an opportunity to remind students that they are paying for the password-accessible electronic resources through technology fees and tuition. Discussions about the economics involved in the creation, production, and dissemination of knowledge information also seem equally needed.

    A few months ago I read an Australian study about this incoming generation of college students and their nostalgia for past media and disenchantment with aspects of the new. I will keep searching for the piece, but I did find a January 2009 ComputerWorld article, “Back to the future: Vinyl record sales double in ’08, CDs down that attributes the increased sales in vinyl records as being fueled in part by those between the ages of 13 and 24.

    Libraries: I agree with much of what Anna says here, but I also want to offer some additional thoughts. University libraries seem to be working quite hard to make themselves more inviting to students–witness, the ubiquitous coffee bar present in so many. And I see many students frequenting the library–but often to meet with other students on group projects and the like. More students may not be physically traipsing over to the library for research, but they do have access more and more to electronic databases for articles as well as *some* full-texts books through services such as NetLibrary (William Warner’s Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain, 1684-1750 (University of California Press, 1998) is an example of one of its holdings). Auletta in his book emphasizes that it is “speed” that characterizes the Google revolution more than any other factor (I believe he notes that electricity as a development was far more transformative than Google and the Internet), and it is speed and ease of access that seems to drive student attraction to online research.

    Reading: Discussions of differences between reading online versus reading on paper have been the subject of extended thread on SHARP-L this October. The matter has also received recent attention on the NY Times’ “Room for Debate” blog, “Does the Brain Like eBooks?”.

    While I certainly encounter students who have little patience for the intricacies of a novel’s narrative (especially perhaps 18th and 19th century tomes), I also have a number who still relish this reading. Of course English majors are more likely to be drawn to and willing to engage with such works, I also have had more than a few non-majors take upper-level courses in literature because they value reading. I teach a class on Urbanism and the Literary Imagination, and I am still hearing from non-majors who have graduated who write me to ask for additional titles on this topic as well as those who write with recommendations for other works I may wish to adopt when teaching this class again. Also, in the exit surveys completed by graduating majors that I review, I have seen a number of comments about the value of spending extended time on close reading in order to puzzle out properly these works. Finally, I have always had students who have resisted or become impatient with lengthy or “old English” (a label that I haven’t heard as often recently, but one that has been frequently applied to 18th- and 19th-century novels by the students who have not been able to “get into these works.”

    Scholarly publishing: I am not opposed to print-on-demand (with Anna’s emphasis on juried review) at all, and it does seem to offer a way to deal with production costs and the like. Yet the situation about the decline in academic publishing may be a bit more complex. For a detailed look at production figures through 2000, see Albert N. Greco, Clara E. Rodríguez, Robert M. Wharton. “Commercial and Scholarly Book Publishing,” The Culture and Commerce of Publishing in the 21st Century (Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books 2007). If the figures of academic books published by commercial firms (Routledge, for example) are considered, a slightly different picture emerges.

    I suspect that articles published in journals available online through subscriber databases are more widely read than those that appear in print only. However, essays that appear in print collections have a better chance of being reviewed and thus brought to the attention of other scholars.

    Culture: There’s lots to say here, and I will post more on this topic later. But I will mention a few points now.

    When I was at Rare Book School at UVA, I was quite surprised to learn that many of the 17th- and 18th-century (and even some 16th-century if I am remembering correctly) books we were handling came from libraries and other sources who normally would have thrown them out (shades of Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper here). In working with these books we, in turn, were able to treat them in ways that contrasted starkly with procedures in rare book rooms; indeed, we handled them much like one would a contemporary book, with free abandonment.

    As Anna suggests (and Dave Mazella has noted earlier in this blog as well as on various postings for The Long Eighteenth Century), electronic resources afford opportunities to foster critical thinking. Indeed, they can be very active, intellectual environments.

    Auletta’s book (again from the interviews and excerpts I’ve read) suggest that the Google founders are approaching “copyright, scholarly us, and access to our cultural heritage” from an “engineering” perspective. This perspective has created clashes with authors, publishers, and members of the academic community.

    I end this posting with a link to an article about Jay Walker’s private library. Walker is the founder of, and his collection serves as a reminder to students that our digital world has not eradicated an interest in and respect for print and manuscripts: Steven Levy, “Browse the Artifacts of Geek History in Jay Walker’s Library”, Wired 16.10.


  11. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Jay Walker’s library looks exquisitely designed. It has at least one book with a ruby-encrusted binding. Its walls are decorated with works of art. A private and carefully curated collection like Walker’s is a wonder and should be celebrated, of course. We want lovingly collected archives like Walker’s. It’s a thing of beauty on its own; moreover, the histories of the Folger Shakespeare Library and many other collections make clear the potential civic value of a private collector’s life-long devotion to books.

    But Walker’s library does not erase my concerns about a problematic rift in our culture’s approach to accessing its books. Future generations are unlikely to need access to that ruby-bound volume, but they will need access to their literary and cultural heritage. And to recent scholarly articles. The web now offers access to general medical knowledge, for example, but getting access to the most recent scholarly articles from medical journals might require passwords that an ordinary citizen does not have. Are we creating two groups of citizens? One set with access to our nation’s knowledge and another without?

    Similarly, as we consider the impact of Google Books, we have to worry about the consequences of digitizing 20 million books and then restricting access to that collection, especially if that process raises the cost of printed books and further restricts library acquisitions and library access. Google claims that they are a democratizing force, and of course in a sense they are. A person with no books but access to the internet can access many books, or parts of books, through GB. Access to texts is theoretically enabled through GB. But one of the consequences of the proliferation of text-bases has been tight restrictions on access to knowledge in libraries. Though public terminals for those without passwords exist so as to allow access to the library’s catalogue, these terminals often do not allow access to the library’s databases to “outsiders.” Google’s plan for a single public terminal in libraries severely narrows the portal to the wealth of information it theoretically promises. Don’t we need to ask tough questions about access and its role in creating an educated body politic, particularly through state universities, which have traditionally granted access to their libraries’ knowledge?


  12. Dave Mazella Says:

    Haven’t had the time to read Auletta’s book (there’s a comment right there), but the question of the googleization of the libraries has come up here at UH as we look to replace our current catalog interface. We’re doing a trial with a google-like single-box search page called Encore, which I hate because it assumes that students aren’t comfortable with a more sophisticated default. The problem is, according to librarians, that students really do come to the catalog expecting a google-like experience. So no matter how much time I spend teaching information literacy and search techniques, significant numbers of students are getting the more passive experience of google reinforced.

    I don’t believe in a technological determinism that would argue that something like google inevitably leads to monopolistic concentrations of information, but there’s no doubt that Anna’s concerns about access coincide with the corporatization of the public university sector generally. Things like libraries and university presses, as vestiges of a liberal arts orientation that universities seem to be retreating from across the country, are very hard to justify in the privatizing student as consumer models we’re seeing in the ascendant nowadays.

    I do think there are democratizing and critical possibilities in google as well as the databases we have access to, but the universities’ embrace of proprietary scientific research as its normative model for all inquiry is a problem for all of us doing library research in the humanities.


  13. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Let me clarify, first, about any confusion I might have generated about my stance on access. As one can see from my previous posts on this blog, I have been extremely concerned about what the Google Book settlement means for access:

    However, my concerns about the Google stem from the settlement specifically.

    For example, one will no longer be able to search copyrighted material using Google Book from home/remote locations (though if one is part of an academic library one might be able to have access as we do with ECCO, etc.).

    One’s academic library will also need to subscribe to Google Book.

    The reporting that libraries are required to do by the settlement seems onerous.

    Public libraries will be allowed ONE designated terminal to search Google Book.

    And these are just some of my worries…

    In short, from what I have read, the settlement seems to curtail already restricted access dramatically (though there is the purchase plan, but the costs and how those costs are set do not seem that clear to me).

    And these are just some of the issues. A judge ruled recently that photographers would not be included in the settlement but implied that Google could be sued if it violated copyrighted images. Google evidently replied with the following plan of action:

    A google spokesperson responds: “If the book’s rightsholder also owns the copyrights to the photographs in the book, then those images will be included. If they don’t, then the photographs won’t be displayed.”


    For some the photographs or illustrations may be what a user is really seeking, and even if they are not, we are affected in our reading experiences when images are missing because the interaction between text and image is part of the intended experience of that work. In other words, while it is understandable that Google cannot reproduced images it has no legal right to copy and display, users are not receiving full access to the work as a consequence.

    Also, as Anna notes, state university libraries have a special responsibility to ensuring access. Yet I see the Google Book settlement creating a double-bind for university libraries. In April 2009 Peter Brantley, the Director of the Internet Archive, gave a talk in which he outlined the plan for libraries:

    Public libraries can request a free subscription for one public terminal per building, or one terminal per 10k FTE (full-time equivalent students) at research/university libraries. K-12 facilities aren’t covered. Libraries can pay for subscriptions for additional terminals as business products offered by Google.

    Participating libraries are libraries that allowed Google to scan their collections. Each participating library will receive a digital copy of the books scanned from its own collection, although apparently not necessarily of the same “quality” as the one held by Google. If that library is part of a consortium, they receive additional digitized copies from the entire consortium’s collection, but only of books that are in their own collection.

    Two universities will maintain (highly regulated) research-only copies of EVERYTHING digitized under Google Books. These will likely/probably be at UMichigan and Stanford. Queries to these databases can originate elsewhere, but the actual databases copies remain at UM and Stanford. (Meredith Filak’s blog)

    In protest, should university libraries not participate because of the set limitation of a single free terminal dedicated to Google (evidently universities have the right to one free terminal per 10,000 full-time students)? Or should they comply in order to give their users some access? Or should they pay to acquire the right to hosting additional terminals? The money that a library would have to spend to secure additional terminals would, of course, cut into the funds available for print (university press books) and subscription databases.

    On a very selfish level, I do much Google BS work from home as well as my campus offce, and I wonder what restrictions will occur from personal, at-home/office use (if GBS will even still be available that way). And, yes, I have become too accustomed to being able to do quite a bit of work from home or my campus office at any hour I wish (including instantly purchasing documents online from the National Archives in the UK if I so wish). It is not that unusual for me to be in my campus office at 1 am—and during that time I am often using GB (whether to gain materials for class or my own project, or to check on proper citation in papers I am grading). Since I will be on the campus network, does that mean I won’t be able to do this work using Google from my desk?

    Anna’s point about “getting access to the most recent scholarly articles from medical journals might require passwords that an ordinary citizen does not have” speaks directly to our significantly increased expectations of access, and Google (as well as the Internet) has contributed greatly to fostering those expectations. (This case is a definite example of how Google has effected the “end of the world as we know it”). In other words, what was access to those medical journals like in pre-Google times and what were our expectations regarding access? How would ordinary citizens have gained access to a particular article (let alone knowledge of an article’s existence)? If they did want to read an article, they could order a ILL copy (and, in fact they still could), though of course the delivery speed would be drastically slower than being able to click on a database and obtain a PDF (or have a PDF delivered to one’s email account in response to a ILL request). In today googleized world, however, a citizen often discovers through an online search a potentially relevant article that has restricted access and is now frustrated (understandably) that he or she is denied access. The same holds true for scholarly legal journals. Finally, there seems to be an issue of hidden access, here, too: does the ordinary citizen have sufficient literacy skills to comprehend the information presented in these highly technical, specialized journals?

    This problem of access to paid subscription databases pre-dates the ubiquity of Google. The contracts negotiated with vendors stipulate who the users can be and the user universe decided often plays a significant role in pricing. One can often pay to become a special borrower at a univeristy library (state as well as private institutions), but the annual fee can be prohibitive, and the privileges rarely include off-campus acces to the databases (again, this privilege is not included because of vendor agreements not to offer access).

    Even campus access can be limited. I remember when the ESTC became a paid online database, and the number of on-campusor off-campus users at any given time at Maryland was restricted to five. This restriction made it very difficult to do in-class workshops with students on using the ESTC. In 2002 ESTC became freely available, so that ended that problem–but many other such difficulties exist with other fee-based electronic tools. It is interesting that not only ESTC became “free” but that WorldCat did as well.

    It might be worth noting that the cost of both scientific print journals and electronic databases are extremely high–far, far higher than those for humanities, and I would suspect that the costs of purchasing this information has put a dent in funds available for the humanities and social sciences. And Dave’s point about university proprietory control over scientific work identifies another significant concern.

    All of these matters seem very much tied to access and ownership of knowledge. In our googlized world, we have come to expect instant access via a few mouse clicks–speed as well as accessibility are both seen as the norm. Yet, most of us are also very much aware about the restrictions and lack of access (WCU has ECCO; it does not have LION nor Burney, for instance). In some ways the paid databases such as ECCO and EEBO have greatly expanded access to these reources to more scholars than in the past. Yet, these tools have also heightened the divide between the haves and the have-nots. It was one thing not to have, say 18th-century microfilm collection, but now the speed through which a search can be executed makes lack of access a double problem. To summarize we might identify the following traits of this new environment:

  14. expectation of wide, immediate access
  15. expanded access for more scholars, for a price
  16. an acute awareness of lack of access for those whose institutions have not subscribe
  17. dramatic difference in the speed through which searches can be conducted for those who do have access
  18. the ability to conduct kinds of research previously impossible through solely manual means
  19. The move to a consumer-based model of education also seems to have its roots in years before Google became so popular—and perhaps this earlier move helped shape the Google enterprise’s attitudes toward knowledge and “users” of knowledge. A new development seems to be a far more forceful push to develop distance education programs, even in institutions that would not have seemed motivated to do so, and the push seems to be spurred in part by consumer-based model and the potential profit motive. Duke’s MBA online program, for instance, charges far more than its face-to-face program.

    Finally, I apologize for not explaining why I mentioned Walker’s library. I did not do so as an example that all is well with the preservation of our cultural heritage. Rather Walker’s library seems to make an impression on students. I try very hard to develop an appreciation among all my students for the importance of books as material, cultural artifacts. That Walker, who made his money from an electronic enterprise, would spend portions of his fortune on acquiring such a library often surprises students. In the same breath of exposing them to something like Walker’s library, I also mention the importance of those who have been fortunate financially (no matter the level of that fortune) to help preserve our heritage by donating funds to support cultural preservation, serving on boards, and/or becoming actively involved in promoting local and national efforts to protect and preserve our cultural heritage.


  20. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Mentioning Walker’s library to classes sounds like an excellent idea. But I couldn’t help seize on the library as a metaphor for the increasing remoteness of the book world for the common reader. I don’t blame Google for this alone, but Auletta’s book makes clear that Google will change things as we know them. My memory of using UNC’s library as a high school student is that anyone could walk in, check the periodical indices, get references to printed articles, walk up to the journals, and xerox the articles. One paid for photocopying, but that was it. One did not need a library card to enter the building or use the indices or access the databases. That kind of access to journals is long gone, and I think that’s one problem.

    Google’s digitization project would, of course, in theory provide utopian range of access to everything printed. In theory, I’m all for it. Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect that we could access GBS for free when it is completed. The question is how much will it cost? And don’t we need to consider the consequences of restricted access (especially if it’s highly restricted), both for our university systems and for a larger reading public? Eleanor’s depiction of accessing GBS from home late at night indicates a kind of live intellectual energy and engagement–with authors past and present, with scholars, with her students–that we don’t want unnecessarily minimized just because we didn’t consider access issues earlier.


  21. Dave Mazella Says:

    I’ve been blogging about this issue for some time, so for example, in this 2007 Long 18th post where the decline of book reviewing, academic and non-academic, seems to be accompanied by a reduced commitment from academic departments to value the work done by reviewers. Miriam Burstein pointed this out in her responses to the 2007 Report on Evaluating Scholarship:

    The difficulty is that categorizing such so-called “service” as “non-productive” scholarship essentially shuts down the possibilities of collective dissemination. It puts practically everything humanities scholars do in the category of the “non-productive,” frankly, because we do something outside the realm of what gets called “real” research by non-academics (i.e., pharmaceutical and department of defense research).

    But Anna’s point leads me to the still-pertinent essay and research presented by Caleb Crain in the NYer a few years ago, which posited that reading books, though once the democratic mode of accessing information, was rapidly becoming a minority enterprise. I think that many of the repercussions of Auletta’s subject matter are part of the far-ranging shift identified by Crain’s so-called “death of the reader.”

    That’s where I see the Walker library fitting in here: as an image of book reading as an elite practice of conoissseurship displacing its earlier, more democratizing functions.



    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      I agree, Dave, that humanities scholarship is increasingly relegated to the categoray of “non-productive.” I’ve also encountered academics in the hard sciences (in other words, our own colleagues) dismissing work as not being significant because there was only a single name on an article while another with four authors being valued as “better” because it matched the model found in scientific publication of collaborative authorship. Ironically, the co-authored piece actually had involved far less research (it was a fine piece, but very hands-on based on classroom practices).

      While I agree that a shift to reading as a minority practice is transpiring and while I could see why you might see Walker’s library in that context, I would note that Walker’s library follows a very long tradition of collecting and the practice conoisseurship that has historically co-existed with reading’s function as a democratizing force. In other words, I don’t think that Walker’s Library necessarily signifies a displacement of reading.

      No doubt many are already familiar with the NEA’s Reading at Risk 2004 report. Indeed, Crain’s New Yorker article was spurred in part by the NEA’s 2007 follow-up report. Interestingly, a 2007 study conducted by University of Manchester social scientists indicates that Britian has not experienced a decline but rather an increase. Their findings do not surprise me.


      • Anna Battigelli Says:

        Thanks, Eleanor. I had not seen the 2007 study, which is interesting. Two points seem important: 1) fewer newspapers are being read, which might mean that reading is less about communities we share than individual worlds we inhabit; and 2) reading in the U.S. has declined, but reading in the U.K. has increased. Could this have to do with the U.S.’s relative lack of public transportation? Much of the reading the U.K. report cited happened while waiting.

        Like the NYTimes blog, “Does the Brain Like eBooks?,” this is an important article for us to consider, as we look at the broad implications of our collective turn to the internet. I don’t think we need to despair about reading, but I share the concerns Dave has articulated on the Long Eighteenth.


      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        Research indicates that smaller newspapers covering local news are doing better than, say, The Washington Post or NY Times. Tellingly, The Washington Post has launched a campaign emphasizing its local coverage. So perhaps rather than indicate a decline in reading about our local communities, the overall drop in newspaper reading perhaps can be attributed to a shift in obtaining national and international news through other media. Some studies have found that the Internet (YouTube et al) has cut in significantly to time spent reading, while television (cable and all) viewing has remained the same.

        Anna’s point about the role that public transportation might play in explaining the differnce in reading is extremely interesting and worth pursuing (I hope some book historians working on contemporary matters would explore this possibility). From my trips to Britain (primarily London, but other areas too), I have been struck by the way books are more visually prominent there. The British chain bookstores were running the “Buy 3, Get one free” (and variations) promotions long before I saw Borders and other chains implementing such strategies in the US.. Plus, I marveled that the Booker Prize Awards were televised. I can’t imagine one of the US networks broadcasting the Pen/Faulkner awards.

        And, I agree, that we shouldn’t despair over reading. I once reviewed all the past MLA Presidential addresses. And so many from the very founding days on bemoaned the lack of reading and writing skills among students and cited the “crisis in the humanities.”


  22. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Access to various libraries seems to very much depend on the institution. I am able to show any ID (more a security measure I sense than an issue of restricted access) at Georgetown and enter its library and have access to many resources (but I don’t think I have access to the subscription databases onsite, but I may be wrong). Catholic University, the last time I was there, had very open access; in fact, I was able to print over 100 pages for free at its Law Library. While I need to pay for printing at Maryland, I don’t need an ID to enter, and I can access its databases on site. In contrast, George Washington University has become increasingly difficult to gain access (they will now not even allow one in with a faculty card from a non-consortium university). The measures taken at GW are directly aimed at restricting access (ironic for an institution that is one of the most expensive, if not the most, for undergraduates to attend). In contrast, the Library of Congress is actively trying to attract more readers to its Main Reading room; the number of readers has declined dramatically. The Library of Congress also does not charge for printing (though it does charge $.20/page for letter-size photocopying). At University of Penn I need to show an ID (any will do), but I have had no problem with access or using their resources (I have not tried to use their subscription databases in a while though, and things do change).

    If GB had not been sued, I don’t think the current Google principals would have charged for access (pure speculation, I may well be wrong). Here’s what Google had to say about private access (I hadn’t checked for my last post) near the end of July 2009 on its FAQs’ page:

    Will users have to get a Google account to use Google Books? What about students at colleges or universities?

    Users of Google Books will not be required to have a Google account. Anyone can freely search Google Books and preview up to 20% of most books without logging into Google. For the institutional subscription, Google will conform to common practices adopted within the industry to protect user privacy: users will be authenticated either using the student’s or the institution’s IP address, or using other methods such as Shiboleth — a technology that lets Google confirm that a user is part of a subscribing institution without knowing who that user is. For the Public Access Service terminals, authentication will be based upon IP and Google will not have information about the individual user.

    I would be interested in hearing what others think about how we might become more involved with influencing access to Google. Because I lack representation in Congress (I live in DC), I do not have a senator or representatives to whom I can write, yet others do. The legal case that seems to be determining much about restricted access to Google (and a number of other matters) is already far along in the judicial system (and thus out of our hands). Another potential way would be to work with the heads of our library (and directors of electronic resources, etc.), but these individuals need to be active in ALA and be able to make some gains in having their voices heard. The MLA and AHA seem to be other possibilities, and large scholarly societies such as these could well play a role in influencing the establishment of a national network (like the UK has) to negotiate deals with commercial vendors of subscription-fee databases to achieve equable access to these resources for all institutions of higher education.

    Robert Darnton, who has opted out of the Google Book Settlement for Harvard, has faith that we can do better. We might want to consider the recommendations and vision he presents in his recent work The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (much of this work is reprinted from essays previously published). As he asserts in an recent essay in Publisher’s Weekly:

    Today, however, we have the means to make that utopia a reality. In many societies, despite enormous inequalities, ordinary people not only read but have access to a huge quantity of reading matter through the Internet. I would not minimize the digital divide, which separates the computerized world from the rest, nor would I underestimate the importance of traditional books. But the future is digital. And I believe that if we can resolve the current challenges facing books in ways that favor ordinary citizens, we can create a digital republic of letters. Much of my book is devoted to this premise and can be summarized in two words: digitize and democratize.


    His motto seems to mirror the call that Anna is making (and that I am also certainly advocating).


  23. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Eleanor makes very good points, as usual. Shall we discuss Darnton’s The Case for Books? Doing so would add useful detail regarding bibliography and book history to Auletta’s vision of the formidable changes Google poses for internet culture.


  24. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Because much of Darnton’s The Case for Books has been published previously, those who do not have a copy might find the following list helpful. (The first two chapters are most recent).

    Chapter One comes from Google & the Future of Books that appeared in The New York Review of Books (February 12, 2009).

    Chapter Two comes from “The Library in the New Age,” New York Review of Books, (June 12, 2008).

    Chapter Four comes from “Lost and Found in Cyberspace,” Chronicle of Higher Education ( March 12, 1999).

    Chapter Five comes from “The New Age of the Book,” New York Review of Books (March 18, 1999).

    Chapter Eight comes from “The Great Book Massacre,” New York Review of Books (April 26, 2001).

    Chapter Nine comes from “The Heresies of Bibliography,” New York Review of Books (May 29, 2003).

    Chapter Ten comes from “Extraordinary Commonplaces,” New York Review of Books (December 21, 2000).

    Chapter Eleven comes from “What Is the History of the Books? (widely reprinted), Daedalus (summer 1982): 65-83.

    Darnton has been interviewed by a number of sources about this book. Rebecca Rego Barry” “Google v. Gutenberg: Robert Darnton’s new book on old books and e-books” appears in Fine Books & Collecting.


  25. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Darnton’s “The Library in the New Age” sets the proper tone for thinking about scholars and the digital revolution. His interesting overview of technological advances–from writing to codex to printing press to electronic communication–provides a helpful perspective as does his insistence that Google Book Search will underscore the importance of libraries. He is, he claims, a “Google enthusiast”:

    I believe Google Book Search really will make book learning accessible on a new, worldwide scale, despite the great digital divide that separates the poor from the computerized. It also will open up possibilities for research involving vast quantities of data, which could never be mastered without digitization. As an example of what the future holds, I would cite the Electronic Enlightenment, a project sponsored by the Voltaire Foundation of Oxford. By digitizing the correspondence of Voltaire, Rousseau, Franklin, and Jefferson—about two hundred volumes in superb, scholarly editions—it will, in effect, recreate the transatlantic republic of letters from the eighteenth century.

    Though he does not mention 18thConnect specifically, this paragraph highlights the significance of the kinds of digital projects 18thConnect might make possible.


  26. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    We have moved the discussion of Darnton’s The Case for Books to a post of its own.


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