Estimates run that it will take Google from 6-10 years to complete its program. No one can say for sure, but at the end of the process, Google will have a content collection that will enable it to offer unmatched depth to all the people now budgeting for brick-and-mortar libraries. Of course, you'll hear the usual bleatings — "But people don't like reading electronic books. It hurts their eyes," "The library is more than books; it's a meeting place; it's an experience," "Some libraries may be hurt, but not mine. We're different." And then there's the prayer for deliverance, the hope that someone out there will stop the ax from falling. The most probable candidate for the role of knight-errant would seem to be the book publishers whose copyright Google is — at first glance — ignoring as it sweeps through multi-million book collections, swallowing the in-print, out-of-print, in-copyright, out-of-copyright. But it looks as if publishers are just going to stand still and take it.
Even if Google fails to pull off all it has promised, the world has seen the new possibilities. If Google does not finish the task in this decade, it will in the next. Even if Google abandons the project, someone else will pick it up. Newspapers and trade magazines all over the country have picked up the story, and most have recognized and discussed the threat it poses to traditional libraries. The coverage of the story has become a phenomenon of its own, creating another instance of the "revolution of rising expectations." At this point, it's only a matter of time.
We must recognize that the weight of the future may collapse the structures of the past, that the systems we have relied upon to filter and measure and archive and distribute quality information may dissolve and leave us floating in a sea of disparate data. But the same dangerous future also will provide the tools to build new and better systems, tools open to new players — like us. We information professionals, we librarians, we searchers can become the new publishers, the new aggregators, the new library-to-library-to-the-world vendors. Above all, we must recognize that new tasks abound and, now that we are freed from shelf patrol duties, we're the ones to do them..