GBS: News from the Digital Library Space

Natasha Singer, Playing Catch-Up in a Digital Library Race, New York Times, Jan. 8, 2011:

Lending libraries may have been the newfangled democratizing factor of their day. Centuries later, though, the United States finds itself trailing Europe and Japan in creating the modern equivalent: a national digital library that would serve as an electronic repository for the nation’s cultural heritage.

In other words, there’s a real digital library divide.

In contrast to the United States, the National Library of Norway has been a global early adopter. In 2005, it announced a goal of digitizing its entire collection; by now it has scanned some 170,000 books, 250,000 newspapers, 610,000 hours of radio broadcasts, 200,000 hours of TV and 500,000 photographs. And, last year, the National Library of the Netherlandssaid it planned to scan all Dutch books, newspapers and periodicals from 1470 onward.

James Kanter, Brussels Wants 7-Year Limit on Works Digitized by Google:

Companies like Google that digitize artworks and books from public bodies should allow other companies and institutions to commercialize those materials after seven years, three experts advising the European Commission said Monday.

The experts, including Maurice C. Lévy, the chairman and chief executive of Publicis, a communications and advertising company based in Paris, also encouraged the emergence of additional innovative companies besides Google to help digitize Europe’s cultural heritage.

Here is the report itself. I hope to have more to say after I read through it, but I have been busy with grading and preparing for the start of classes.

Was going to ask how will the EU pay for the public program of scanning?… ,but then what is sauce for the Right holder could also be sauce for the Google.

“In other words, there’s a real digital library divide.”

John Wilkin, Executive Director of the HathiTrust disputes this statement.

Regarding the European Commission Report. A German perspective: Google should not be alone in digitizing cultural heritage, experts say— Deutsche Welle

Public libraries were needed when books cost money and when getting to the bookshop was, for many, a long trip. Are libraries needed anymore?


I’d say not, actually.


As far as the 7 year limitation on exclusive rights is concerned, this recommendation echoes that found in the “Principles to Guide Vendor/Publisher Relations in Large-Scale Digitization Projects of Special Collections Materials” issued by the Association of Research Libraries last June. Principle 6 states that “Restrictions on external access to copies of works digitized from a library’s holding should be of limited duration.” No specific time frame is suggested, though the commentary indicates that it should be as short as possible.

Are libraries needed anymore?

Oh I’d beg to differ. I’m a public librarian and I work in rural locations in the US. As you probably know, library use is shooting through the roof with the economic downturn. People need jobs, entertainment, stuff to do with their kids, computer skills and computer access.

If the question is “Do people need libraries in order to get access to things to read” then the answer is closer to “most of them don’t” but the whole point of a public library in the US is for everyone to have the same baseline access to information as everyone else. I think people with cheap and ready access to the internet have forgotten what it was like to not know how to use a computer, or to not know how to search for anything.

There are many places in the US where people’s only computer and internet access is at the public library. This may be because they’re poor, it may be because they’re rural, it may be because they’re dealing with a host of other problems. As more and more of the things we need to do to interact with our friends, workplaces and governments are online, we still have a glaring open question “How do people learn how to use computers?” To a certain extent younger generations will learn in school, but we have a lost generation of people who didn’t learn in school and who aren’t learning at work who can’t use a mouse well enough to fill out their online unemployment forms.

So, sorry for the temporary soapbox, but public libraries are getting more use, not less, as we shift to more digital content formats. If these formats are for everyone, and used for everything, we have an obligation as a society to make sure that everyone has access and ability to interact with them.

But then, is a computer access and training center a library? Likewise, are the general, non-book, community events centers some libraries are morphing into, libraries?

I’d say no on both counts. If we’re going to vote funds for low-income people to use computers and learn how to use them, let’s vote for that specifically. If we’re going to vote for a community center, let’s vote for that specifically.

But let’s not call these entities libraries. It’s entirely possible to do these things in other ways, quite possibly under the auspices of other institutions, existing or new.

I also think that if we have a resource such as a computer center that is for low-income people, it should be labeled as such, verified as such, and its patrons should be screened as such. We don’t have taxpayers pay for food stamps for everyone who wants to save a few bucks at the grocery store—only low-income people who need food stamps. It should be the same with public computer centers and libraries. There is no reason our in-debt governments should try to fund free services for people who do not need them, and no reason taxpayers should foot the bills for people who are not in need and just want freebies. There are plenty of services that, instead, should be funded for people who really need them and also, things like repair of the highway infrastructure that no individual can accomplish.

Let the many people who can afford to buy books, computers, and Internet access do so, and only subsidize those who cannot afford these things.

It also might be cheaper for the government to just buy some laptops or even iPADs at wholesale prices and give them to low-income recipients. No need to maintain all those library buildings and pay their staffs.

Mr Hirtle

I understand that all this scanning is not cheap. Pragmatically, I wonder about commercial value. The directors of a listed public company are obligated to maximize shareholder return. They are not supposed to just throw money around like madman’s custard.

Over the years the world has had a lot of irrational exuberance , anyone want a tulip ?


I also live in a relatively remote area. It is easy to forget that most of the worlds population are not on the web at all and it is even easier to not notice that most of the web is ‘dark matter’ and invisible to searching.

By ‘libraries’ I meant; Physical concentrations of stacks of books, Concentrations that are cared for by a social Class : ‘keepers of books’. Concentrations that are housed in special structures that have rules about access and behavior, that are pre-conditional to being to granted a library users card.

Are libraries needed anymore?

Yes. Just because I have had a bad experience with the University of Wisconsin Libraries does not mean that I do not appreciate the good that public libraries do. (Though I wish they would be public in their opposition to Google’s unauthorized digitization of in-copyright works.) In a 2007 article in the Halifax Public Library’s newsletter I stated:

“Traditionally, people think of a library as a place for books, but with all the new technology that now exists, the library also gives you a place to access that technology,”…”It’s a good jumping off point for research.”

I think that is still true, but it will be awhile before I will trust a library again with my work. There is talk of a new Halifax central library. I hope it is built.