Free as in Libraries

An interesting front page article in yesterday’s NY times: “Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web.” The headline is a bit disingenious, since it implies that libraries are trying to prevent access, when in reality they are trying to preserve it.

The situation is really that the libraries are beginning to recognize the tradeoff Google offers in scanning:

Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies want to place on the new digital collections.

Libraries that agree to work with Google must agree to a set of terms, which include making the material unavailable to other commercial search services. Microsoft places a similar restriction on the books it converts to electronic form. The Open Content Alliance, by contrast, is making the material available to any search service.

So Google doesn’t charge for scanning the books, which is a huge benefit to libraries (who are not exactly known as the land where money runs free), but in exchange imposes restrictions on what libraries can do with the resulting digital assets.

The Open Content Alliance (founded by Brewster Kahle of Internet Archive fame), on the other hand, charges a fee for digitizing (though that can be supported by grants) but makes the content available to all. (See the principles outlined in their call for participation).

On a serendipitously related note, there’s a Webinar / Live event at the Berkman Center today with Aaron Swartz, who is the tech lead for the Open Library project.

Berkman events are webcast, have an associated IRC channel, can be attended in Second Life, and are archived at Media Berkman, in case (like me) you can’t get to Harvard Square today.