Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mass Digitization and Open Access

According to a September 13, 2007 news release, the Yale Library is partnering with Microsoft to scan 100,000 of its public domain books:

Yale is committed to providing the widest possible access to its collection ... The full text of the digitized books will be indexed. Full text searching enables researchers to locate relevant material that they could never find through traditional indexes or library catalogs (e.g. a single paragraph in a work on an unrelated topic).

Mass digitization will certainly improve access to Yale's collections. The problem is that while the majority of Web searchers rely on Google (54% versus 13% for Microsoft's Live Search) , Microsoft requires that the new digital copies be indexed exclusively in Live Search. Google users will simply not be able to find the full texts presented or indexed there (though they may find catalog records courtesy of openworldcat.org). One wonders, therefore, whether this arrangement undermines Yale's commitment, mentioned above, "to provide the widest possible access to its collection."

Compare this to the approach taken by UConn, which is partnering with the Boston Library Consortium and Brewster Kahle's Open Content Alliance. According to the October 4th LJ Academic Newswire, Vice-Provost Brinley Franklin said, "The library staff at UConn was unanimous in its endorsement of unrestricted access to materials we digitize ... We are ready to turn down funding from companies that restrict searching digital collections through their proprietary search engine." An October 22 New York Times article (slashdotted on Oct. 23) reports that the Boston Public Library, MIT, Brown, the Smithsonian, and others, have similarly opted out of the Google/Microsoft model.

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