Digital Libraries

I am back from the hospital, recuperating at home ….

I clipped into Evernote the link to a fascinating story from this Sunday’s business section, and only had a chance to look at it today. The Times writes about digital libraries, and how America has fallen behind in this advancement: “Playing Catch-Up in a Digital Library Race” by Natasha Singer.

Ms. Singer points out that the US does not have a comprehensive strategy for turning physical books, some of which might be incredibly rare, into electronic editions that can be copied as widely as licensing restrictions and library policies would allow.

The story compares our lack of a strategy for digitization to the strategy of the National Library of Norway. In 2005, the Norwegian library announced that it would be digitizing its entire collection. The library has completed digitzing:

  • 170,000 books
  • 250,000 newspapers
  • 610,000 hours of radio broadcasts
  • 200,000 hours of TV
  • 500,000 photographs
National Library of Norway: The Promise of America
National Library of Norway: The Promise of America

Some of this digitized information covers the topic of emigration from Norway to America. Some of this material can be found on the library’s page “The Promise of America.”

This microsite includes a timeline, articles and books, letters home, photos and prints, video and audio, bibliographies, maps, links, and “Viking to Chicago,” a collection of newspaper articles about a viking ship that way sent to the 1893 World’s Fair and Exposition in Chicago.

The National Library of the Netherlands, the article continues, plans to digitize all magazines, newspapers, and books in Dutch from 1470 onward. (Me, I would start with the oldest known books, including illustrated manuscripts, but of course, this is an amazing project.) The over 40 countries of the Council of Europe have put together The European Library, a single search engine for digitized European cultural artifacts. The European Commission has created Europeana,  site containing 15 million digitized artifacts.

Ms. Singer points out that the US does have the Library of Congress and it’s American Memory portal, with 16 million digitized artifacts. However, Ms. Singer notes, the Library of Congress has another 100 million artifacts that have not been digitized. And there is no comprehensive national strategy.

The good news is that a comprehensive strategy that would link the electronic resources of a number of university libraries, the Library of Congress. Many of the holdings of these institutions have already been digitized by Google for Google Books. The libraries would probably need to negotiate for the rights to use these digital versions of the items digitized out of their holdings.

I, for one, will be staying tuned to see if these major institutions can address the legal and technical issues and deliver a comprehensive electronic American library.