Four years ago, Robert Darnton, historian and librarian at Harvard, wrote in the New York Review that “we [had] missed a great opportunity.” Instead of digitizing America’s print heritage in a public project, perhaps managed by “a grand alliance of research libraries,” the United States had allowed a private corporation to control the scanning and storing of books. Depending on the outcome of federal lawsuits, Google Books would enjoy a virtual monopoly on books still in copyright.
“We could have created a National Digital Library—the twenty-first-century equivalent of the Library of Alexandria,” Darnton wrote. “It is too late now. Not only have we failed to realize that possibility, but, even worse, we are allowing a question of public policy—the control of access to information—to be determined by private lawsuit.”