Saturday, October 20, 2007

Scanning The Library World

Whose library is best and which collection offers the richest content when digitised? We have seen the giant hover that is Google making a land grab for any library that will play and now we see the national and international divides.

The Library of Congress has announced its plans to expand its World Digital Library Program and has signed an agreement with UNESCO. The project is a joint venture with other national libraries and is modelled on the Library of Congress’s vast American Memory project. The digital library will hold digital versions of rare and specialised materials such as manuscripts, maps, books, films, sound recordings and photographs, will be free to access over the Internet and is currently available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese languages.

The project started 2 years ago with a $3million grant from Google and assistance from Apple and they are currently discussing further funding alliances with Nokia and Vodaphone, as well as gathering commitments from countries.

You would think that one project was enough, but European libraries are separately developing their own digital collections and the European Digital Library will release its prototype next year. The French National Library has already developed a test project, Europeana, for the European library and is in the process of digitizing 300,000 books.

Today we also read that several major research libraries including a large consortium in the Boston area, have rejected offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they were put off by restrictions these companies wanted to place on the new digital collections. They are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort to make digital material as widely accessible as possible.

However many libraries including the New York Public, the University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford and Oxford have accepted the offer. Google expects to scan 15 million books from those collections.

The issue for some is that Libraries that agree to work with Google do so on Google's terms, which involve access to the material only through the Google search engine, as well as restrictions on how much of it can be downloaded.

There are now two library camps; one is shaped by commercial concerns, the other by a commitment to openness, and which one will win is not clear.