Monday, October 22, 2007

New York Times article on OCA

There was an article in the New York Times about libraries choosing to work with OCA instead of Google.

These are two quotes that I kept going back to -- "It costs the Open Content Alliance as much as $30 to scan each book" and "Libraries that sign with the Open Content Alliance are obligated to pay the cost of scanning the books. Several have received grants from organizations like the Sloan Foundation.The Boston Library Consortium’s project is self-funded, with $845,000 for the next two years. The consortium pays 10 cents a page to the Internet Archive ..."

A number of years ago we estimated that it would cost us many hundreds of dollars to digitize a book, but that involved a lot of manual work, from shooting the images to keyboarding of text (rather than OCR) to QA. We haven't revisited such an estimate in a while -- I'm sure it's lower now, but not that low. Of OCA participants, some get foundation support to shoulder the costs, and some fund it entirely themselves. Compared to doing it all yourselves, that's a bargain. I'm a fan of the OCA effort.

But then there's this quote -- “taking Google money for now while realizing this is, at best, a short-term bridge to a truly open universal library of the future.”

We don't actually take any Google money. Yes, Google provides a service for us, but they don't pay us for our participation. We underwrite certain costs for our participation. Yes, there are restrictions. You can read our agreement. One can and should question issues of control over data by any company or institution, but there is value in our pre-1923 volumes being made publicly available through Google Books. The institutions that chose to participate in one project versus the other (or both) should be neither lionized nor assailed.