Thursday, March 17, 2005

How can we all help to get books digitized? (an opinion)

Right now, there are several large libraries and Google involved in digitizing books. Although it would be easy for the rest of us to sit on the sidelines and let them do all the work, that is not what we need to be doing. I think there are two things we can do to help this effort.

First, talk to library consortia organizations and vendors (e.g., existing reprographic or microfilm service bureaus) about creating service bureaus that are focused on digitization. The service bureaus -- one in each region? -- should have machines and software for efficiently scanning at least books and flat materials. Adding technology for scanning microfilm or other formats would be very useful and would allow the service bureau to become a one-stop shop.

Since an organization might not want to invest all of the money necessary to create a high-end service bureau, I see the need for several organizations to cooperate on its creation. For example, several libraries (or maybe a combination of libraries and corporations who also need digitization services) could fund the creation of a digitization service bureau in their region in cooperation with a vendor that has the know-how to run such as facility and can ensure its staffing.

It is important to recognize that digitization work will not be completed quickly. Digitization service bureaus should be busy well into the future. So these are not being created to fulfill some short-term need; they are long-term investments.

Second, every library needs to be looking at its collection and identifying those books that should be digitized as a way of making their content more readily available while lessening the wear on the original text. I'm hesitant to suggest selection criteria since books might be selected for different reasons by different institutions. However, once the books are selected, the library needs to make it known (perhaps through some yet-to-be-created clearinghouse) that it wants specific books digitized. Then the library would work to ensure that the book is digitized by either having it done itself or by ensuring that the same book is digitized by another institution. I know -- there is a level of coordination implied here that will take time and resources. I'm not sure who should oversee this coordination, but it needs to be a group that can work efficiently and effectively to assure that timely decisions are made.

Assuming that these two suggestions are worth pursuing, what should be done next? Meetings between regional stakeholders to get things moving. These meetings need to have a sense of urgency -- a sense that this must be done now. Yes, plans need to put into place. However, these are not plans that are acted on in 2- 5 years, but plans that need to be acted on in the coming months. We need to get to work now.

Okay, I've voiced my opinion. Leave a comment and tell me yours. How do you think we should be proceeding?


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