What if all libraries could freely lend their collections digitally? That’s the dream of Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit venture based in San Francisco, CA.
On a webcast to SPARC Members on March 2, Kahle shared his visionary proposal to do just that, by digitizing and sharing 4 million books. The proposal was just announced as one of eight semi-finalists for the MacArthur Foundation’s “100&Change” competition to award one $100 million grant to solve a pressing global problem. .
In his talk, Kahle outlined the vision for making books digitally accessible for free to scholars, journalists, students and the public through libraries. With this project, his vision is to “wave a wand” over libraries so there is a digital book available for every physical copy. (See: http://library2020.blog.archive.org/)
Specifically, this could be accomplished through a combination of acquiring ebooks and scanning hard copies. The project would start with the most widely held titles. The idea is that libraries would give users the option of borrowing books or digital copies. The library system would catalog the titles with an icon indicating a digital version was available for lending.
Since 2000, the Internet Archive, which employs 140 staff at its headquarters, has built a collection of 279 billion web pages, 2 million moving images, 2.4 million audio files, 3 million hours of TV, 90,000 software titles, 500,000 ebooks and 2.3 million physical books in warehouses. It takes about 10 cents per page to digitize books, said Kahle, although efforts are being made to lower the cost by setting up a super-scanning centers.
The Internet Archive’s goal is to provide universal access to knowledge. Kahle said the effort has not run into legal problems over rights and that moving forward to make all libraries digital could be “one of the greatest achievements.” Libraries still have to decide how many copies to lend. Kahle suggests that rather than focusing on digitization as a mechanism of paying less, the project is meant to broaden access.
How can interested librarians help? Here’s what Kahle suggested at the SPARC webcast:
- Share your story. If you can think of ways your community would benefit from having books available online, write up your thoughts and email them to the Internet Archive. Kahle is hoping to bolster the organization’s chances of getting the award by demonstrating the potential impact among various constituencies. Letters of support and testimonials will be invaluable in accomplishing this.
- Buy digital when you can. Scan what you have. You can bring titles to a scanning center or purchase a machine (about $15,000) to scan in-house.
- Share your digital material with the Internet Archive. If your campus has an institutional repository, send your files to the Archive. The IA can serve as another method of long-term preservation of institutional repositories.
- If you are downsizing your collections, send your physical books to Internet Archive. They will pay for shipping, digitize of the all books donated, and make them available as possible.
The infrastructure needed for the digitization project already exists, and Kahle said it could be done quickly—possibly by 2020. Even if the MacArthur Foundation does not award the $100 million grant to the Internet Archive,(the winner will announced in December), Kahle hopes exposure through the competition will bring attention to the project, surface potential collaborators, and possibly attract other funders. He added: “The idea is to drive the conversation and cause us to dream a little bigger,” says Kahle, a computer engineer who helped created the WAIS system, the Internet’s first publishing and distributed search system and a precursor to the World Wide Web.
by Caralee Adams