Monday, October 22, 2007

Scanned! Libraries See the Folly in Proprietary Programs

The Open Content Alliance was established as a non-profit, non-proprietary program to aid libraries in developing their own book scanning efforts. It was partially a reaction to the far more renowned Google book program but some could argue it was a logical extension of the work of the Internet Archive program that the OCA founder Brewster Kahle also established. There are fundamental differences between the OCA approach and other digitization programs: Firstly, the library pays OCA for the scan, secondly, the content is limited to out of copyright material and thirdly, the library has no restriction on what is done with the scan.

This morning the NYTimes examines the developing resistance to commercial digitization programs such as Google and Microsoft and uses as an example the decision by a consortium of Massachusetts libraries not to go commercial.
But the resistance from some libraries, like the Boston Public Library and the Smithsonian Institution, suggests that many in the academic and nonprofit world are intent on pursuing a vision of the Web as a global repository of knowledge that is free of business interests or restrictions. Even though Google’s program could make millions of books available to hundreds of millions of Internet users for the first time, some libraries and researchers worry that if any one company comes to dominate the digital conversion of these works, it could exploit that dominance for commercial gain.
But Google continues to add libraries to their digitization program with regularity and why this continues is not really discussed here. Within the library community the disquiet regarding the Google program has been growing all year and the discussion as been as much about the restrictions as it has about the quality of the scans themselves. Less has been said about public trust and this aspect is not directly addressed in the Times article either.

As repositories of our collective knowledge and most often as beneficiaries of our tax revenues or public donations, libraries have an obligation to ensure that the general public has ready access to the content collected on our behalf. Perhaps this is a controversial point and perhaps this thought it not directly applicable in an academic context (unless it is a public institution) but the President of the Boston Public Library obliquely references this point when he says in the article:
"We understand the commercial value of what Google is doing, but we want to be able to distribute materials in a way where everyone benefits from it,” said Bernard A. Margolis, president of the Boston Public Library, which has in its collection roughly 3,700 volumes from the personal library of John Adams.
So what of the libraries in the Google program? Some are having second thoughts, some are entirely happy and some have made it work to their advantage. Generally, speaking it appears that everyone believes that all library content will eventually be freely accessible. If that means that works will have to be scanned again for those works that have restrictions placed on them by the original scanner then so be it. Since this second effort is likely to take some time, this content may be available in digitized form at a network level in advance as more and more libraries take advantage of 'open' programs like OCA.

I was intrigued by the last sentence of the article:
On Wednesday the Internet Archive announced, together with the Boston Public Library and the library of the Marine Biological Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, that it would start scanning out-of-print but in-copyright works to be distributed through a digital inter library loan system.
"digital interlibrary loan system" sounds very interesting.

1 comment:

Adam Hodgkin said...

On the other hand....

"Before we get to digital interlibrary loans we are going to have campus to campus digital walk-in access......"

Some thoughts on this here: