5 Examples of the Value of Google Books’ Search Function

How librarians and educators framed the discussion in Authors Guild v. Google

December 2, 2015

Google Books image with gavel

Perhaps after 10 years of litigation, periods of controversy and misunderstanding, a bevy of legal briefs, news articles, charts, timelines, and speculation, you have grown tired of Authors Guild v. Google, the US appeals court case pitting Google’s largescale efforts to scan millions of books held by research libraries against the Authors Guild alleging that the project violated copyright law.

Well, it’s over. On October 16, the court ruled in favor of Google, affirming a district court decision that upheld that creating a keyword search index for the massive undertaking was a fair use. However, the Authors Guild promises to appeal to the Supreme Court.

One thing you might not know is that you—librarians and educators—played a significant role in framing the discussion by providing examples of how valuable Google Books’ search function was to the public. These examples strengthened the argument made in an amicus brief filed by the Library Copyright Alliance and were then cited in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, 902 F. Supp. 2d 445 (S.D.N.Y. 2012).

Here are five of the best examples:

1. From a school librarian:

“Over the years we’ve used [Google Books’ search function] with many classes doing research, especially on social studies and language arts topics. I point out to students that even though many of the books do not allow access to the full text, they can still use it successfully to find information for their arguments even if they can’t read the entire book. They have also successfully used it as a tool for finding books in a local library. The really neat thing about it is the ability to find obscure information since the entire text can be searched even if the page is not available for perusal. It’s much more useful than Google Scholar because so much of what Google Scholar indexes is not available through typical high school databases.”

2. From a librarian at a tribal college library:

“Because my students, and even some of my faculty members, face significant challenges and barriers to accessing resources (including transportation challenges, limited or no internet access, etc.), Google Books’ search helps us find if resources exist, to identify if those resources may be helpful to their academic purposes, and get started on the path to access through other means, if not our own library. I cannot overemphasize how much more difficult my job would be and how lacking my faculty’s and students’ experiences would be without access to a free tool like Google Books’ search.”

3. From a library director:

“A couple of years ago I was helping a student look for information on a speech that [Nikita] Khrushchev made to the National Press Club. It wasn’t one of his famous, shoe-pounding speeches. We struggled mightily for a long time, until we looked at Google Books. There we found a reference to the speech in a book that seems to be one of the important biographies of Khrushchev, and we had the book. So the student went to the shelf, picked up the book, and got the info he needed.”

4. From an author:

“I’m writing a biography, so I typed in my subject’s name [into Google Books’ search]. Instantly, I got all these references to books where he appeared. Each reference would give me the two to three pages where he was the subject, and I could tell from reading that short synopsis whether the book was something I could use. I went out and bought books, borrowed books from libraries, and even tracked down some that were in my own collection that I hadn’t realized before were relevant.”

5. From a science journalist:

“I started using Google Books as soon as it was available. As a science journalist, I need to do a lot of digging to make sure what I am saying is accurate, understand the research I am reporting on, and discover contradictory points of view. Google Books helps me identify sources, check for accuracy, and decide if it is worthwhile to travel to the nearest academic library to obtain the book or even buy it. Over the years, I have purchased dozens as a result of using Google Books.”