University library digitizes books

By Matthew Richardson

The University library has recently embarked on an extensive project to make its content more accessible to the public, entirely free of cost.

The University has joined the Open Content Alliance, which is a project of the Internet Archive, an organization committed to building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts. The Open Content Alliance is an organization that facilitates the digitization of books. Its members include academic libraries and private institutions, including the University of Michigan, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

“We’ve been interested in (the alliance) since early last year, pretty much when it was announced,” said Tim Cole, mathematics librarian and interim head of library digital services and development.

One of the main focuses of the Open Content Alliance’s mission is that each of the contributing institutions will add unique parts of its collection to the archive, such as first editions and books that are out of print. For instance, the University has already digitized 32 books about Abraham Lincoln.

“The Open Content Alliance is distinguished by the fact that all the works we’re digitizing will be freely available to everyone, just to view and look at and use,” Cole said. “And you can actually download the PDFs.”

The University plans to digitize approximately 6,000 volumes in the public domain this year. Many of these volumes cover topics specific to Illinois, such as the state’s history, famous Illinoisans and the Chicago Field Museum Fieldiana Botany and Zoology series.

“We’re being selective, we’re paying what we have to pay, we’re doing it cooperatively where we can with other libraries,” Cole said. “The ultimate goal is to make everything we can available for student use and faculty research.”

Google currently has a similar project, hoping in the next five years to digitize everything that is published. Google is also being sued by the Association of American Publishers in an attempt to block Google’s project. This being said, copyright law is a substantial impediment to massive digitization.

“The whole purpose of copyright law is to give someone incentive to do the work in the first place,” Cole said. “Because if you don’t let someone protect the commercial value, you’re not going to get anything produced. Unfortunately, when you’re talking about scholarly resources, requiring that everything back to 1923 be in copyright, is a little bit more than you might want.”

The University’s current digitization projects, including some outside of the Open Content Alliance, are being funded by $900,000 of state money.

“A lot of credit goes to Naomi Jakobsson, our representative in this area,” Cole said. “She lobbied hard for this. The campus and the Board of Trustees obviously thought this was important enough to encourage some legislature to go in this direction.”