Anthony Grafton in this week's New Yorker provides a lucid and level-headed analysis of the many fervid efforts to digitize the universe of the printed word, such as the Google Library Project and Microsoft's Live Search Books Publishers Program, as well as more focused (and frequently non-profit) ventures such as the Open Content Alliance and more subject-focused efforts such as Aluka (about which you've previously read in this space).
In fact, writes Grafton, the Internet will not bring us a universal library, much less
an encyclopedic record of human experience. None of the firms now
engaged in digitization projects claim that it will create anything of
the kind. The hype and rhetoric make it hard to grasp what Google and
Microsoft and their partner libraries are actually doing ...
Google and Microsoft pursue their own interests, in ways that they think will generate income, and this has prompted a number of major libraries to work with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit book-digitizing venture. Many important books will remain untouched: Google, for example, has no immediate plans to scan books from the first couple of centuries of printing ... Other sectors of the world’s book production are not even catalogued and accessible on site, much less available for digitization. The materials from the poorest societies may not attract companies that rely on subscriptions or on advertising for cash flow.
Closer to home Grafton also provides a concise and complimentary history of libraries from third millennium B.C. Mesopotamia to the present. The conclusion includes an encomium to libraries that might remind readers of the retardaire Nicholson Baker. But unlike Baker Grafton makes a case for libraries being an enduring participant in the research process, not the sole player:
For now and for the foreseeable future, any serious reader will have to know how to travel down two very different roads simultaneously. No one should avoid the broad, smooth, and open road that leads through the screen. But if you want to know what one of Coleridge’s annotated books or an early “Spider-Man” comic really looks and feels like, or if you just want to read one of those millions of books which are being digitized, you still have to do it the old way, and you will have to for decades to come.
Apart from the article, "Future reading: digitization and its discontents," there is a complementary online-only article with links to many of the web resources cited in the article.