By GAIL FINEBERG
A collaborative effort to scan endangered library collections of embrittled books before they crumble to bits, and to make them available widely and freely in digital format, is well underway with the digital scanning of the first 25,000 books from the Library’s General Collections.
To celebrate the benchmark scanning of the 25,000th book, a children’s book with the title “The Heroic Life of Abraham Lincoln,” some 100 people including the project’s principals gathered in the Science, Technology and Business reading room in the John Adams Building on Jan. 14 and then toured a book-scanning lab in the Adams Building.
“The public can now access a growing digital collection of wonderful and fascinating works from the Library’s vast general collections. Among these works are many American history books that are becoming too fragile to handle physically, as well as a large collection of genealogical materials that are among our most-often-requested items,” said Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for Library Services.
Marcum said the digital files will be accessible online, and the physical volumes will go into long-term special storage. (This mass-digitalization program has nothing to do with the Library’s decades-old mass-deacidification program to save books printed on papers made from acid-producing pulp.)
A $2 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is helping to support the Library’s Digitizing American Imprints Program. Marcum said the Library recognizes the value of digitizing as much of its general collections as funding permits, and building a digital collection of public-domain books will become an integral part of the Library’s overall collection-development program.
The Library is contracting with the Internet Archive for digitization services, and a FEDLINK master contract with the Internet Archive will provide similar scanning services to the federal library community. The Library is acting in concert with more than 100 libraries, universities and cultural institutions in an “open-content movement” to digitize and make freely available public-domain books on a wide variety of subjects.
At the Jan. 14 event, Marcum welcomed and introduced project contributors and supporters, among them Doron Weber, program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Brewster Kahle, director and co-founder of the Internet Archive.
“We are thrilled to show you what’s going on. The scanning facility is of great importance to the Library of Congress as we accelerate our effort to make the collections available,” Marcum said.
All book-scanning operations are housed in the Library’s John Adams Building. Internet Archive staff work two shifts each day at 10 Scribe scanning stations. The mass-digitization operation can digitize up to 1,000 volumes each week.
Within 72 hours of scanning, the books are available online at www.archive.org. Books can be read online or downloaded for more intensive study. Marcum noted the increasing popularity of digital books available on “Kindles or iPods or Blackberries or whatever reading device you’re using these days.”
The Library is working with the Internet Archive on the development of a full-featured, open-source page turner. A beta version, called the Flip Book, is available on the Internet Archive site and was demonstrated on Jan. 14.
Although this mass-digitization project is in its trial phase, Marcum noted that the Library is no stranger to digitization, having pioneered the process and set metadata standards for more than 12 million digital images for the Library’s online collections of primary-source materials, such as historical manuscripts, maps, movies, music, photographs and sound recordings such as speeches and oral histories.
In a press release issued on Jan. 14, Weber said: “The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is proud to support the Library of Congress in this first-ever mass digitization of books in its vast collection. In the great tradition of publicly funded libraries, the Library of Congress is leading the way in quality scanning of books that will make the fruits of human knowledge and human culture available to people everywhere in an open, nonexclusive archive. We encourage governments at all levels to champion this cause and to help support the movement to create a universal digital library for the benefit of scholars, researchers, and the general public.”
Weber termed the Jan. 14 event a “historic occasion.” Digitizing the first 25,000 books is “a major milestone,” he said, even though that number is but a fraction of all the books in the Library’s collections, which now total more than 19 million.
He said the Sloan Foundation emphasizes “openness” in such projects. Implicit in agreements such as the one governing the book-digitization project is that the product will be made available as widely and freely as possible.
“They’ve gotten the price for scanning down to about $30 for the average 300-page book,” he said. “The Library has risen beautifully to the task … and is fulfilling its mission of providing the digital library of the future.”
The Internet Archive’s Brewster Kahle said it was a “great honor to be here. Look at where we are—this is the Library of Congress!”
Praising all the partners and leaders of the project, he said, “The opportunity is tremendous; the leadership is here.”
Kahle spoke of making governmental information available digitally. “We have an opportunity for government transparency. There are many materials published by the United States government that are really quite good, but you’d never know it” because currently they’re not digitally available, he said.
Gail Finberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library’s staff newsletter. Jennifer Gavin, senior public affairs specialist, contributed to this report.