Librarian of Congress James H. Billington recently announced that the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded the Library of Congress a $2 million grant for a program to digitize thousands of public-domain works, with a major focus on at-risk "brittle books" and U.S. history volumes.
The project, "Digitizing American Imprints at the Library of Congress," will include not only the scanning of volumes but also the development of suitable page-turner display technology, capability to scan and display foldouts, and a pilot program to capture high-level metadata, such as tables of contents, chapters or sections, and indexes. Past digitization projects have shied away from brittle books because of the condition of the materials, but "Digitizing American Imprints" intends to serve as a demonstration project of best practices for handling and scanning such vulnerable works.
"'Digitizing American Imprints' will make a major contribution to the collective body of knowledge that is accessible worldwide, further democratizing the information that is a key to functional societies and economies," Dr. Billington said.
"It is inspiring to think that one of these books, many of which are in physical jeopardy, might spark the creativity of a future scholar or ordinary citizen who otherwise might not have had access to this wealth of human understanding."
Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for library services and coordinator of the project, said, "The Library has been a leader in digitization of special collection materials, and this grant from the Sloan Foundation allows us to digitize, preserve and make available additional brittle materials from our general collections."
"We are delighted to partner with the Library of Congress, the world's largest library, in this historic digitization effort," said Doron Weber, program director at the Sloan Foundation. "A significant number of books from the Library's great collection will now be available to anyone in the world in an open, nonexclusive and nonprofit setting, thus bringing the ideal of a universal digital library closer to reality."
The Library's proposal includes digitization of works in the following categories:
- "Brittle books" from across the Library's General Collection.
- American history.
- U.S. genealogy and regimental histories. The former includes many useful county, state and regional histories, while the latter includes histories, memoirs, diaries and other collections from the Civil War period.
- Six collections of rare books: the Benjamin Franklin Collection, selections from the Katherine Golden Bitting and the Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collections of Gastronomy, a selection of first editions from the Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Division, selections from the Confederate States of America Collection, the Henry Harrisse Collection of Columbiana and selections from the Jean Hersholt Collection of Hans Christian Andersen.
- Works of photography focusing on the technical aspects of photography and the artistic publications and biographies of photographers.
"Digitizing American Imprints" will utilize the "Scribe" scanning technology of the Open Content Alliance. Scanning is expected to begin within a few months after an initial startup period to establish logistics, staffing and resources.
"Partnerships are crucial to help the Library of Congress realize our mission of acquiring and making accessible a universal repository of information in order to further human understanding and achievement," Dr. Billington said. "We're grateful to the Sloan Foundation and all of our partners across a broad spectrum who share these goals and values."
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded in 1934, makes grants in science, technology and the quality of American life. Sloan's program in Universal Access to Recorded Knowledge, directed by Doron Weber, aims to increase access to recorded human knowledge by encouraging digitization of material in the public domain, assuring public archiving, preservation and open access of this material and fostering its availability to people everywhere. The program has also supported the Internet Archive, the Open Content Alliance—which includes more than 50 of the nation's biggest libraries and research institutions—the New Orleans Public Library and On Demand Books.