The agreement between Google and the Italian Ministry of Culture, announced in a press conference in Rome on March 10th, is not just a new item in the list of deals that Google signed with many libraries around the world. There are some innovative features that make the agreement a true bi-lateral partnership.
The first is that the agreement defines a framework at a national level. For the first time, the Ministry of Culture rather than an individual library signed it. The scanning of 1 million public domain books was announced. The selection of the collections is entirely under the responsibility of the librarians, starting from -but not limited to- the National libraries of Florence and Rome. Libraries will have the responsibility for the creation of metadata for the scanned books, which will be fully interoperable with the Italian library catalogue (managed by the ICCU), and thus with the TEL, The European Library.
Another characteristic of the deal is the absence of any exclusivity: Italian libraries will be free to reach any similar agreement with Google competitors or other commercial companies.
The most important element of the agreement is about the management of the files resulting from the scanning. Libraries will receive the files back, also in OCRed format, both for long-term preservation purposes and for making them available on their websites or other portals of the Italian public sector. Therefore, the digitisations resulting from the agreement will feed the Europeana index. The agreement is conceived as a demonstrator that real partnerships can also be set up with a giant like Google, and that Europeana can benefit from a well-balanced public-private agreement.
Finally, the agreement envisages the set up of a scanning centre in Italy, which also means the creation of around 100 qualified jobs, and guarantees maximum control of the whole process, in order to preserve books that often are very precious and rare.
The agreement includes only public domain works. The determination of the public domain status is simplified through the decision of scanning only books published before 1868. The inclusion of copyrighted books is the next challenge, both the Ministry and the Google representatives said, and the orphan works issue is to be approached. Interestingly, Nikesh Arora, Google's President of Global Sales Operations and Business Development, declared: "We are ready to support whatever solution is proposed", which is a signal of Google's increasing willingness to accept the European way of dealing with rights within the digital library programme. No doubt, this will open interesting perspectives for collaboration with ARROW.