Anyone who was as excited as I was about the prospect of "Free Chess through Google Books" will want to read Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly's article "Scan this Book!" (New York Times Magazine, May 14, 2006) about the efforts of publishers to stop Google Books (and others) from making the giant treasure trove of out-of-print material available online. Though Kelly ultimately suggests that book publishers (working in concert to resist the inevitable and technologically-determined paradigm shift) will likely slow Google's dream of greater access for decades, along the way he presents an exciting prospect for anyone who cares about book knowledge, including us chess players.
The most exciting part of that prospect, as Kelly writes, is that "The static world of book knowledge [will] be transformed by the same elevation of relationships [witnessed on the interlinked web], as each page in a book discovers other pages and other books" (45). Readers will be able to create links of interrelated information, or very quickly to remix all knowledge on specific subjects. "Just as the music audience now juggles and reorders songs into new albums...the universal library will encourage the creation of virtual 'bookshelves' -- a collection of texts...that form a library shelf's worth of specialized information" (45). The prospect for chess theory is very exciting, since chess players will be able to create complete collections of everything ever written on a specific opening with about the same ease as they can now create a specialized .CBV or .PGN database of games that feature a specific variation. In the future, the restoration of lost variations will be done with the click of a mouse and some relatively easy editing.
But this dream vision of the future will be a long time coming. Besides the copyright issues that need to be resolved, there is also the sheer volume of unscanned works and the laborious process of converting them to digital form. As Kelly writes: "Nearly 100 percent of all contemporary recorded music has already been digitized, much of it by fans. About one-tenth of the 500,000 or so movies listed on the Internet Movie Database are now digitized on DVD. But because of copyright issues and the physical fact of the need to turn pages, the digitization of books has proceeded at a relative crawl. At most one book in 20 has moved from analog to digital. So far, the universal library is a library without many books" (44).
One further concern for chess players is that the libraries cooperating with Google are not necessarily those with the best chess collections. It occurs to me, therefore, that if we are going to create greater access to out-of-print chess books, then we might start by digitizing the ones we own that are likely out of copyright. I am contemplating doing my part. How about you?