imagesA lecture by visiting professor Jane Ginsburg.  Hypatia is the Librarian’s utopia, the Library of Alexandria with every text freely accessible.  Victor Hugo is the Author’s utopia: the author is renumerated for his or her work.  And the Google Brothers are the current personification of the clash of two Utopias, Google Books: Universal Library or Bookstore?

The Library of Alexandria has become our idea of the comprehensive library that embraces all knowledge.  Probably because it is lost in time and now irrecoverable.  Since the Sixteenth Century we have been trying to create the themetic catalogue, the universal book of all books: all knowledge, all information, accessed on a desk, an exodermic appendage of the mind.  Have we heard this before: the Internet, or the Matrix?

On the way we passed through the index card, and the micro-filme.  Seeing the plans for a Memex brought to mind the character Angleton from Charles Stross’s Laundry Files.  That helps to imagine that character.

As the metaphor of the memory supplement sits on our desks, and equally as often nowadays, carried in our pockets between two glass slides, the Library of Alexandria is superceded by the Digital Public Library.

The author wants to get paid for her work.  In the Nineteenth Century authors and other luminaries worked together to create multi-territorial privilege to publish.  The right of authorship extended to one territory and outside of that territory a publication’s protection was fair game.  This led to the first production of the Pirates of Penzance being performed in New York so its publication would not be pirated in America.  After 1878 the Berne Convention agreed on copyright protection in all but a handful of states around the world.

So is Google Books fair use or public benefit.  It can be an enhanced card catalogue of the world’s books.  Google is not a charitable institution.  No digital lending library yet.  We are still waiting for the balance between a universal free public library and authorial dissemination and renumeration.