Minorities Give Thumbs Up to Google Books

Google gets lots of flak these days for its big foot ways, its dominance online, and its cyber eye that watches where you go as you click around the Internet. So the company must have welcomed the respite it got at a forum this week at Howard University School of Law.

Google received a warm welcome at the gathering from civil rights leaders and educators who applauded the company's plan to put millions of out-of-print books online. Digitizing titles from libraries around the country would greatly expand access for minorities and poor people, participants said, according to IDG News service.

"The idea that a student in Boston at a very exclusive private school can read the same books that a student somewhere in an underfunded, urban public school can, that they can have the same access to the same materials is actually just amazing," said Professor Rhea Ballard-Thrower, the law librarian at the Howard law school. "Books are the great equalizer."

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Federation of the Blind all urged court approval of a settlement Google reached in October on a lawsuit that alleged its scanning program violated copyrights, IDG News reported. Once approved, Google would embark on its large-scale scanning project. The forum, hosted by the law school, focused on the book settlement.

"This [scanning] project is part of a larger effort to democratize knowledge," said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "To me, this project is so crucial because it helps to level the playing field at the most fundamental intersection of rights, knowledge and advocacy."

The book project is expected to vastly improve access for blind people through the use of text-to-voice technology.

"As long-time advocates of equal opportunity for the blind, we so often tend to view progress as slow, gradual and incremental," said Charles Brown, advisor to the president of the National Federation of the Blind. "Then again, once in a while something big is so suddenly achieved to be truly revolutionary in scope. The Google book project surely fits in this rare category."

By Steven E. Levingston |  July 31, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
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