2 years ago

February 2020 Issue

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Works of art defining the contemporary age in WNC. Cover: ‘Downtown,’ 24x24, by Mark Bettis

BOOKS When Google tried

BOOKS When Google tried to get rid of your public library BY PETER LOEWER • NATIONAL Last week when somebody told me about the worth of Google, my deeper memory bank suddenly opened its vault door. It allowed me to recall how Google attempted to start a massive file that would eventually contain all the books ever written, thus making them available to all the computer users in America, and ultimately the world. Their original plan was to make a deal with the University of Michigan to provide their library and a place to install a fleet of scanners and begin what I called at the time, Operation Scan Scam. Google’s idea began to meet reality in the year 2002 when they would begin digitizing about 25 million books, using books held by major university libraries, including Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford universities, and the New York Public Library. It was meant to be a Google-plan, something that a few wizard Geeks thought up while enjoying their Ivory Tower life atop of the Google Institution, probably in luxury offices overlooking the great Golden Gate Bridge, as they turned the bridge into an icon for spreading knowledge and rescue humankind from falling into the pit of ignorance where it usually wound up in any reading of the future. I didn’t discover their fascinating attempt at stealing the worlds’ knowledge and putting it all into a Google Wisdom Bank and, in so doing, ended any chance of writers making a living from royalty sales. Luckily, a friend of mine who knew I had written a new book about Henry Thoreau looked it up online to check one of my reference books and found the entire volume, Thoreau’s Garden, including well-reproduced illustrations, with all the illustrations reproduced, while the book was still available for sale in bookstores and from the publisher. Amazingly, while I was wondering what to do, a message arrived from my New York agent, telling me about Google’s plans and because I had 15 books in print and available in libraries and often, bookstores, it was necessary for me to write 15 individual letters telling Google that I wrote each book in the list, including the date of publication and the ISBN as it appeared on the copyright page. And so, I did. I wrote 15 separate letters and mailed them to an address my agent had supplied, and eventually, the books vanished from sight. Now, along with that operation, Google publicly made the following announcement: “All libraries would cease to exist within 15 years. ” They would close their doors because storing books in publicly-funded buildings would no longer be needed, and the books of yesterday and today, not to mention tomorrow, would be waiting for you, the faithful reader, online. But enter the Authors Guild (of which I am a member), other publishers, and other author’s organizations who launched an epic battle that went on and on and on for years. A settlement that would have created a Book Rights Registry and made it possible to access the Google Books through public-library terminals ultimately died, rejected by a federal judge who dismissed the case in 2011. Unfortunately, in 2013, that same judge handed Google a victory that allowed it to keep on scanning, but while these hawkers of dreams scanned away, the libraries of America began to achieve greatness again, and new buildings were built, and new books were published, and new books were read, and today your local library is there for you, and will continue to be there as the years go by. Another victory for the book. Peter Loewer has been writing about Asheville gardening and politics, plus the occasional movie that needs attention, since 1990. He also teaches art courses in Continuing Education at AB-Tech. His garden comments are heard on Asheville-FM as The Wild Gardener. INFO 26 |RAPIDRIVERMAGAZINE.COM | RAPID RIVER’S ARTS & CULTURE | VOL. 23, NO. 6 — FEBRUARY 2020

Happy Valentine’s Day “Jesse,” watercolor, by Lisa Steffens “Girl with red hair,” by Martin Poole “Poke Weed,” by Stephanie Sipp Flora, Fauna & Figure at the Red House Studios and Gallery this February BY STAFF REPORTS • BLACK MOUNTAIN Swannanoa Valley Fine Arts League’s gallery blooms this February for the show Flora, Fauna, and, Figure. Enjoy the wonders of the league’s artists, including that of figurative studio artists and botany-driven journalists, February 11 – March 9 at The Red House Studios and Gallery. Reception, Friday, February 14, 5-7pm. Open: Monday through Saturday, 10-5pm, Sundays, 10 -3pm. 310 W State St., Black Mountain. VOL. 23, NO. 6 — FEBRUARY 2020 | RAPIDRIVERMAGAZINE.COM | RAPID RIVER’S ARTS & CULTURE | 27