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Vol 38  No 6
November 24, 2005




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Memorial aims for virtual library

Open book policy

By David Sorensen

Memorial’s vast collection of Newfoundland and Labrador printed material is coming soon to an Internet connection near you. Lost in the media hype surrounding search engine giant Google’s effort to digitize the collections of five massive American college libraries, Memorial has joined forces with the Open Content Alliance to digitize the 60,000 titles in the university’s Centre for Newfoundland Studies.

University Librarian Richard Ellis said he is keen to see library holdings made available to anyone with access to the Internet.

“As a librarian, I feel that everything should be on the Web.”

Mr. Ellis said the stumbling block, now overcome, was digitizing printed material cost-effectively. With that technological hurdle now cleared, two groups are leading the rush to digitize library books ­ Google and the Open Content Alliance, headed by technology savant Brewster Kahle.

“I didn’t write that book to make money out of it.
I wrote it so people would read it.”
-Dr. Peter Pope


Memorial has thrown in its lot with the Open Content Alliance.

Last June, Mr. Ellis listened while Mr. Kahle outlined to the Canadian Association of Research Libraries’ conference his plans for a public Internet archive. MUN signed on and sent the Internet archive project material to scan. This included the first 25 years of the Newfoundland Quarterly. Those files have been digitized and returned to the library for review. “They will go up on the university’s Web site as part of its digital archives project.”

Copyright concerns

There are three types of material in libraries, explained Mr. Ellis. There is published material which is out of copyright and in the public domain; material which is still subject to copyright but out of print, and there is material which is in print and subject to copyright.

“The most conservative approach to digitization says we will only deal with material that is in the public domain,” explained Mr. Ellis. “Google’s approach ­ to do everything ­ is the appropriate approach.”

However, there were concerns raised about the ownership of the digital copies of the library works. “There is a question about who controls the digital asset.”

Enter Brewster Kahle. “When Google announced that it was doing these things, Mr. Kahle and some of his colleagues looked at the process and said there is no guarantee in this that Google is not creating for itself a treasure trove that nobody else will be able to match,” said Mr. Ellis. “And so Kahle and some of his partners created the Open Content Alliance which is designed to do very much the same thing.

“His material, whatever it was, was going to be free on the Web for everyone. And that is the ideal circumstance. We have to make sure that a publisher’s revenues are protected … but eventually all materials should be freely available.”

The priority for Memorial’s libraries is Newfoundland and Labrador material, and that means the 60,000 titles available in the Centre for Newfoundland Studies. Already, Mr. Kahle’s Internet Archive ( has several volumes of Newfoundland Quarterly on its site.

Google recently announced an agreement with several major university libraries and publishing companies in the United States to digitize their library collections, and that project is proceeding despite concerns raised by writers.

Google has agreed to protect the material which is still in print. This involves setting up a “dark archive” in which the copyrighted material is saved but not available to the public until there is an agreement to do so or the copyright expires.

Open book

If you search for Newfoundland on Google Print ( one of the first titles that comes up is Dr. Peter Pope’s award-winning Fish Into Wine: The Newfoundland Plantation in the Seventeenth Century. Published by UNC Press, the book was made available to Google through its Google Books Partner Program.

Dr. Pope wasn’t aware that this book was available on the Internet until informed by the Gazette. However, he was happy to hear that it is available in digital form, even if there are limited pages on the Web.

“I’m fine with it,” said Dr. Pope. “Because I’m an academic writer, I didn’t write that book to make money out of it. I wrote it so people would read it. So this is another way in which people will read it.”

Dr. Pope, a professor of Anthropology and History who works out of Memorial’s Archaeology Unit, said he’s on the “let’s-make-it-available” side.

“I think it’d be nuts for an academic author to be saying I want another 10 cents every time somebody looks at this. What am I doing it for? I’m doing it so that people will learn stuff about early Newfoundland so of course I’m delighted if somebody looks up something and finds out about early Newfoundland.”

Because a search engine can now scan the entire text of digital works ­ not just the index or the table of contents ­ the benefits of digital collections for academic and amateur researchers are immeasurable, said Dr. Pope.

“A university library like Memorial, which was only really created in the 1960s, is not going to have the depth of historic texts that Harvard or even McGill or the U of T is going to have so it’s a great resource for us,” he said. There are also an increasing number of historical documents available online, in a form more conducive to reading than the “notoriously cruddy” microfilm.

“My graduate student … who is working on the French archaeology of 17th century Placentia, she’s got reams of stuff now from the National Archives … that’s really useful,” explained Dr. Pope. “When I did my doctorate you absolutely had to go to Ottawa or London to see those documents and obtain physical paper copies of them which then made a great big fat stack which you had to cram in your suitcase.”

And researchers may find materials in places they wouldn’t have thought to look.

“I had a student a couple of years ago find a very relevant pamphlet, the only copy of which survived in Harvard University Library. I’d never heard of it because I never thought to look in the Harvard University catalogue of pamphlets to see if there was one about Newfoundland.”

In 2004, Fish Into Wine was named the Best Book on Canadian Maritime and Naval History by the North American Society for Ocean History and was given a honourable mention by the Canadian Historical Association in its annual award ceremony.

Reading material

Meanwhile, the University Librarian said the goal of libraries has always been to give people access to information. And that means competition and variety among digital collections.

“Our concern has always been that the record be complete, or as complete as we’re able to make it,” said Mr. Ellis. “In the Internet context, this means that we are concerned about redundancy. There should not only be one digital copy. The world’s libraries, as a system, have done their preservation work on the basis of many copies in many different places ­ that’s what has assured the continued availability of any given work. Lots of copies. That’s really important as we move into the digital environment.

“If Google Inc. has the only copy, and nobody else has the millions of bucks to go out and do the digitization, then we’re in trouble.

“The Open Content Alliance has both an ideological advantage, from my perspective, and also it provides competition and it provides redundancy.”

Writers have been nervously examining the latest trend. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) announced last month the filing of a lawsuit against Google over its plans to digitally copy and distribute copyrighted works without permission of the copyright owners.

Globe and Mail writer Russell Smith, also the author of four books of fiction, said in his Nov. 3 column that no matter how secure a dark archive of copyrighted material, someone will find a way to hack and distribute the material on the Internet. If that happens, “All we can hope for … is that people will still prefer to read them as handy objects, bound and well-printed, as opposed to on flickering screens or in bulky printouts.”

Mr. Ellis said the various projects aimed at digitizing libraries is a long-term activity and the impact on the printed book is uncertain.

“I don’t see a cessation in publishing book-length treatments.”


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