The new Google Books API and possibilities for libraries

Posted on Mon 16 May 2011 in Libraries

On the subject of the new Google Books API that was unveiled during the Google IO 2011 conference last week, Jonathan Rochkind states:

Once you have an API key, it can keep track of # requests for that key — it’s not clear to me if they rate limit you, and if so at what rate.

I can answer that. There's no mystery to how many queries per day you're allowed per API key; as the Google API Console shows, the default limit is 1,000 per day. Note: default - this suggests that Google is willing to be flexible on this front. Now, I can imagine the immediate grousing response along the lines of "Good luck getting Google to respond", etc. This is one of the reasons I attended Google IO last year and this year: human contact is much more valuable than email, forum posts, or whinging blogs. I have paid for the conference and all expenses out of my own pocket each year because, as a librarian/developer, there aren't many entities that are more relevant to our overall information landscape than Google at the moment. So, I sat in on the Integrating to eBooks: APIs to Sell and Read eBooks for Affiliates, Retailers and Device Makers session and took advantage of the public Q&A session at the end to ask some questions (skip ahead to 31:39 if you want to hear the questions and answers).

The default limit of 1,000 queries per day per API key was a bit of a concern, as one direction that my colleague Art Rhyno has been exploring for the creation of a local federated search solution is the creation of a "bookshelf" in Google Books that represents the entire collection of the University of Windsor. There is no documentation about the limits on the size of this bookshelf, and I was able to get an answer that that is because there currently is no limit. Good news to these ears. Also, I was told that the limit of 1,000 queries per day was just a starting point that could be upped, given a reasonable request.

Noting the absence of any sort of loaning feature, I asked what plans (if any) Google Books had to offer users the ability to loan purchased books. I received the expected answer ("We can't talk about future plans") but by being present at the session I was able to ensure that the question was impressed not only on the people responsible for Google Books, but also for all of the other attendees and for subsequent viewers of the online session. Baby steps, eh?

Beyond that, I was also able to talk directly with Pratip and Kevin, the speakers at the session, to further describe this particular use case that libraries have for Google Books (enabling full-text search of the bulk of their collection, whether print or electronic) and some of the possible advantages to Google, and despite their session's clear focus on selling books via affiliate links, they appeared to be genuinely open to the possibilities of partnerships with libraries (hey, there is even the possibility of libraries acting as affiliate sellers for Google Books and reaping revenue that way; others have done it with Amazon, so as much as I may find the practice distasteful personally, some places find it acceptable).

So, the conversation has begun, as conversations should - person to person - and I'll report back when / if we make further progress.