I have to admit that “mass digitization” is one of those phrases that makes me laugh a little. It’s one I like to hear people attempt after a couple of drinks in the conference hotel bar. It’s what George Carlin would call “euphemistic language” that softens what is going on–a whole lot of scanning. But I will admit, digitization sounds cooler than scanning.
Kirtas Technology announced this month that it has signed an agreement with Microsoft Corporation for the digitization of both publisher partner copyrighted works and select collections of public domain materials. The books will be available to Windows Live users through the Windows Live Books program (think competitor to Google Books).
Microsoft and Kirtas are also collaborating with Cornell University Library in its large-scale digitization effort, one noted for its adherence to quality and standards, like so many of the libraries involved in such efforts. The news about Microsoft and Cornell comes just a week after an announcement that the University of Wisconsin in Madison will join the Google Books project.
And in the immediate wake of all these announcements, the Open Content Alliance starts a meeting today in San Francisco. Representatives of Kirtas and Microsoft appear to be on hand, and I would not be surprised if someone from Google made the drive up from Mountain View to try to lurk in the back of the room.
Whether it’s the Google Books program, OCA, or just an army of monkeys with a flatbed scanner, mass digitization actually fulfils one of my wildest dreams–in many ways, it separates the digitization of content from the discovery and consumption of that content. Long have I wished that we could have been digitizing books while the ad nauseam debate over e-book devices and reading on screens was ongoing, rather than trying to catch up after the debate ended. Now we are catching up.
Lest we forget: The players with the deepest pockets in this arena primarily have consumer revenue as their goal. I only hope that libraries are able to capitalize on this motivation, and in the end put books in the hands of readers–regardless of whether those hands hold a screen, a mouse, or a freshly printed book from a library’s digital repository of content.
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]