Monday, October 03, 2005

Welcome to the digital age

There's an exciting effort underway to digitize books and make them searchable and available on the internet-- free.

But wait. Didn't Google already try that.? Yes, but their attempt has, uncharacteristically, been a disaster.

Now Yahoo (I refuse to put the exclamation point, it's stupid) has teamed with the University of California, the University of Toronto, Hewlett Packard, and Adobe to digitize thousands of books that aren't copyright protected. The next stage in their plan will be to get consent from copyright holders to digitize their books. This will save them the legal troubles plaguing Google's effort.

The group is called the Open Content Alliance. There's an AP story here and a NYT story here. A highlight from the NYT:

"What's so interesting about all of this are the collections that can come forward that are relatively specialized," said Carole Moore, chief librarian at the University of Toronto. "This will put it together on a global scale, which is really exciting."

In other words, a library that specializes in Hemingway could put their collection online, as could a library that specializes in American History, or mollusks, or oceanograpy, or whatever. This would be absolutely amazing if it works. And I don't see why it wouldn't. Especially if they can get others to join the effort:

The new group is calling for others to join. And Mr. Kahle of the Internet Archive said he hoped to recruit Google.

"The thing I want to have happen out of all this is have Google join in," he said. "I know we're dealing with archcompetitors, but if there's room for these guys to bend, by the time my kid goes to college, we could have a library system that is just astonishing."

It'll be a 21st-Century Alexandria: all the best works of literature collected in one place. But it'll be better than Alexandria because it'll be searchable. Welcome to the digital age.


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