Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Race to the Shelf Continues: The Open Content Alliance and

An article in the Jan. 2008 issue of Searcher discusses two important "competitors" of the Google Book Search Library Project, namely the Open Content Alliance (OCA) and Boston College, several Boston Library Consortium libraries, and a number of other important North American libraries are partners with the OCA.


Internet giants such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Amazon are in the middle of nothing short of a modern-day space race: Who can scan the most and the best books in alliance with the biggest and brightest libraries in the U.S. — nay, the world! — while simultaneously providing print on demand, “find in a library,” and “buy the book” links as well? The amount of press and controversy surrounding the Google Book Search Library Project tends to overshadow one detail — while these companies may have begun the race to the shelf, they certainly did not invent book digitization. Look no further than Michael Hart’s Project Gutenberg, which celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2006 and expanded its reach to Canada in July 2007, to know that book digitization is nothing new. But, as with almost all things these big internet companies touch, the stakes have been raised significantly.

While Google seems to rack up an increasingly impressive list of library and industry partners [See “Google Book Search Libraries and Their Digital Copies: What Now?” at for a description of the Google Book Search library partners — then], the Open Content Alliance, or OCA, is giving Google a run for its money. OCA comes armed with an open access philosophy and its own impressive stable of partners, including Yahoo! and, at least initially, Microsoft. Amazon, the dark horse in the race, as scanning and making books available for free online would seem antithetical to its book-selling roots, has gotten into the act, offering to partner with libraries to help scan and sell rare and hard-to-find books from library collections. Under Amazon’s model, the libraries retain their own digital copies along with a portion of any print-on-demand profits. Ultimately, librarians now have choices when it comes to large-scale digitization partnerships. . . .

Which Project to Pick?

Financial concerns certainly must be considered, but there are also some weighty philosophical issues that emerge. The titles included in the Google Book Search program are unavailable to other Web services. Is this a real problem or does Google’s search engine supremacy make this a nonissue? Does OCA have a sustainable model of open access in place and can it continue to scale? Would selling print-on-demand copies of your rare books through Amazon make your digitization project financially feasible? And what do we do about copyright? Some libraries have taken a stance of sorts on these types of issues, as reported in an Oct. 22, 2007, New York Times article, “Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web” [
ex=1193716800&en=abc109c23daee1fe&ei=5070&emc=eta1]. In this article, the author explains the resistance of some libraries, such as the Boston Public Library and the Smithsonian Libraries, to sign up with Google. Regardless, answers to these questions will not come soon or easily. In the meantime, librarians will have to make some tough choices, but keep seeking the benefits that can be drawn from these endeavors.

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