Tthe Authors' Guild and Association of American Publishers' (AAP) have raised a fuss and filed lawsuits over Google's scanning universities' libraries. But, as University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman rightly pointed out in a speech [PDF] before the AAP, focusing on the legal issues [PDF] of Google Book Search misses the point: "[The digitization project] transcends debates about snippets, and copyright, and who owns what when, and rises to the very ideal of a university -- particularly a great public university like Michigan."
Coleman described how preserving the knowledge and information in Michigan's library is an essential public good that cannot be fulfilled without Google's help:
"Digitizing the entire Michigan library was a project our librarians predicted would take more than one thousand years. [Google founder] Larry [Page] told us Google could make it happen in six....
"As a country, we are at risk of losing millions and millions of items that constitute our heritage and our culture, because of a lack of conservation and planning. And libraries fare the worst when it comes to dedicating resources to preservation work....
"We know that these digital copies [archived at Michigan] may be the only versions of work that survive into the future. We also know that every book in our library, regardless of its copyright status today, will eventually fall into the public domain and be owned by society. As a public university, we have the unique task to preserve them all, and we will."
Coleman told publishers that they should rest easy; the archival copies retained by the libraries will not be used until the books enter the public domain.
For more gems from Coleman's speech, read the whole thing here [PDF].