The Google books project might be dead, but it appears at least one Southern California City refuses to give up on the dream of moving toward an "electronic library" to create the largest and the most comprehensive library in the world. While people typically identify libraries with physical books, Newport Beach, Calif., city officials have developed a plan that would close one of its four branches to outfit the center with everything except books.
City officials met at the Balboa Peninsula's Marina Park last week to unveil plans to close the Balboa branch, which the local Daily Pilot newspaper reports houses 35,000 books, DVDs and other material, dedicating a portion to what the planning commissions calls an electronic library. Since most people come to the library for a quiet place to study or read, it would mean adding Internet connections, computers, and providing a place for people to plug-in to get online.
Although city officials did not detail the move toward electronic materials, it's not difficult to envision how a plan similar to this one could benefit search engines, library patrons, authors and retailers. For starters, aside from Google, Bing and Yahoo, partnerships with niche search engines would give Blekko, Dogpile, or Wolfram Alpha expanded exposure to consumers that otherwise might not have heard of them.
Engineers would need to write a software or Web-based application linking all libraries across the United States. The app could protect copyrighted material and monitor electronic material check-in and outs.
Electronic watermarks on digitized book pages would prevent content from being copied. Snippets of code in the electronic file could check-in books by making the file unusable or disappear on the person's computer, tablet or mobile device after a predefined date. This technology already exists in the movie industry.
Aside from local businesses, city funding and private donations, libraries would supplement revenue with paid search and display advertising. Library patrons would fill out an online form to receive an electronic library card that paid click and display advertisers would use to target ads.
Publishers would have a tracking system to identify the most and the least read books. The author would receive points, pennies, or other compensation each time a patron checked out a book or material from the library, supplemented by advertising. It would give self-published authors or those without a major publisher such as Random House, HarperCollins or Penguin Putnam an opportunity for consumers to find alternative reading material.
A move like this would bring the world's books to the fingertips of millions across the globe. Searching for and accessing tablet and mobile applications would become easier, too.
But there's one major glitch in this futuristic, hypothetical plan concocted in my head to support the Newport Beach library (and others) that Google, advertisers and a variety of organizations will need to work through.
U.S. Judge Denny Chin last week set down a ruling that rejected a settlement agreement between Google, the Association of American Publishers, and the Authors Guild for a 2005 lawsuit based on full-text scanning and digitizing copyrighted books. Nieman Journalism Lab also posted Google's response.
I strongly believe, if this issue is not resolved, the "electronic library" will become a missed opportunity for all of humanity by not bringing valuable resources to people in need who can't freely or readily access them.