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.