May 04, 2005

Google library ninjas launch "virulent attacks" on European culture

BBC News tells us that plans for "a vast digital library to preserve Europe's cultural heritage" have taken another step, as various EU culture ministers responded favorably to Jacques Chirac's call. And of course, money was also mentioned:

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker warned the Comedie Francaise meeting that such a massive project would only be possible if sufficient funding was made available.

Digital libraries, especially vast ones, are surely a Good Thing, but some of these people are saying weird stuff:

"We have to act," Mr Juncker, whose country is the holder of the EU presidency, told the meeting of culture ministers, artists and intellectuals who gathered to come up with a European charter for culture.

"That's why I say 'yes' to the initiative of the French president (Jacques Chirac) to launch a European digital library. I say 'yes' because Europe must not submit in the face of virulent attacks from others," he said.

If the BBC is quoting him accurately -- always a matter for concern -- this man is insane. Remember, the "virulent attack" that he's talking about is Google's deal with some research libraries to digitize books and let the public read them online.

Other (indirectly quoted) remarks are equally detached from reality, if not as bizarrely emotional:

EU officials and cultural commentators have voiced concern that Google's ambitious plans could result in important European literary works missing out and being lost to future generations.

There are good reasons for pluralism in this as in most things, and good reasons for a mix of public and private initiatives. The more digital library projects, the better (though rivalry may create artificial barriers to search and information integration of new kinds). But is it even remotely plausible that Google Print's Library Project will cause "important European literary works" to be lost? Do these folks really think that the great works of European literature are systematically missing from The New York Public Library and the libraries of the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, and Oxford University? And do they fear that Google's crack cultural commandos are even now infiltrating across the channel, preparing to burn libraries and destroy scanners from Brest to the Danube?

Well, EU politicians are not individually insane, I know. But there is something collectively out of joint in European culture, if rhetoric like this really resonates with the public. Anyhow, maybe a better title for this post would be "Culture ministers are in favor of more money EU digital library".

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 4, 2005 11:33 AM