Yahoo, European Union Announce Digital Library Projects

October 7, 2005

In the wake of Google’s plan to digitize books from libraries and provide access to their contents through its search engine, Yahoo has announced that it would join with the University of California, the University of Toronto, and others to digitize large collections of books and make them searchable through any search engine and downloadable for free.

The project, to be run by the newly formed Open Content Alliance (OCA), will scan and digitize only texts in the public domain, except where the copyright holder has expressly given permission. In contrast, the Google Print for Libraries project plans to include works that are under copyright, although copyright holders can choose to withhold their books from the program; it has met with objections from publishers’ and authors’ groups, who dispute Google’s claim that the digitizing falls under the fair use doctrine.

In addition to the two universities, content for the OCA project will come from the United Kingdom’s National Archives, O’Reilly Media, and the European Archive. The nonprofit Internet Archive will host the digitized material, scanning technology will be provided by Hewlett-Packard, and Adobe Systems will supply licenses for its Acrobat and Photoshop software.

“Bringing the treasures of our libraries and archives to a worldwide readership is in the interest of many organizations,” said Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle. “The Internet Archive along with the other founding members of the OCA invite interested organizations to join the effort and help fulfill this digital dream.”

On the Yahoo blog, Kahle said the costs of the initiative “are mostly being borne by the host institutions based on their own fundraising or business models. The cost of digitization is sometimes offset by a different party . . . We think this can scale to millions of books, movies, and audio recordings.”

Another ambitious digitization project was announced September 30 when the European Commission unveiled a plan to digitize and preserve Europe’s books, films, photographs, manuscripts, speeches, and music.

“Without a collective memory, we are nothing, and can achieve nothing. It defines our identity and we use it continuously for education, work, and leisure,” said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. “The internet is the most powerful new tool we have had for storing and sharing information since the Gutenberg press, so let’s use it to make the material in Europe’s libraries and archives accessible to all.”

The commission acknowledged that digitization projects are already underway in the member states, but called them fragmented. It called for member states and cultural institutions to join the European Union initiative in order to avoid the creation of mutually incompatible systems and duplication of effort.

The announcement follows a proposal in April from six European leaders for what they called a “European digital library.” The commission invited comments, with a January 20, 2006, deadline, that will be considered in formulating a recommendation to be presented the following June.

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