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.

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