Mar 11

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

History, Digitized and Abridged

Katie Hafner has a great piece in today's New York Times about the fact that documents that are offline are becoming invisible. From the article:

"There's an illusion being created that all the world's knowledge is on the Web, but we haven't begun to glimpse what is out there in local archives and libraries," said Edward L. Ayers, a historian and dean of the college and graduate school of arts and sciences at the University of Virginia. "Material that is not digitized risks being neglected as it would not have been in the past, virtually lost to the great majority of potential users."

To be sure, digitization efforts over the last 10 years have been ambitious and far-reaching. For many institutions, putting collections online, for both preservation and accessibility, is a priority. Yet for every letter from Abraham Lincoln to William Seward that can be found online, millions of documents bearing fine-grained witness to the Civil War will never be digitized. And for every CD re-release of Bessie Smith singing "Gimme a Pigfoot," the work of hundreds of lesser-known musicians from the early 20th century are unlikely to be converted to digital form. Money, technology and copyright complications are huge impediments.

Digitization is costly; hence only currently valuable works tend to be digitized, leaving older material in the dark. Copyright status of many older works is unclear, so even when money is available, there are problems in making the work available. This is why people concerned about digital preservation should be on Google's side of their dispute with the AAP and the Author's Guild. An "opt out" policy for books scanned from library collections is far more preservation-friendly than one that is based on "opt in", as the publishers request.

(Katie also has a related piece called Analog Memories in a Digital World that is more personal, and very much drives the same point home.)

tags: copyright  | comments: 3   | Sphere It

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Comments: 3

  Julian Bond [03.11.07 12:53 PM]

There's another factor here. In a world of exponential growth in information, the old analogue text is a smaller and smaller percentage of the whole. The 1% of text that is still analogue now will be only 0.1% in 10 years and only 0.01% in 20.

What is equally worrying is the loss of content that was purely online and has now disappeared. is only just there in the wayback machine. How about the VRML version of Television: Bees?

  Valentin [03.11.07 01:49 PM]

The absolute majority of documents is not becoming invisible - its only that the digital age is making it clear how invisible they always have been!

From the article: "Before that [digitalization] happened, we had 200 requests total for the whole year in our research room," Mr. Hastings said. "The first month the films were available on Google, there were about 200,000 hits on them - a thousandfold increase."

  Art [03.13.07 03:12 PM]

That was a great article by Katie Hafner. There is a small start-up that I found that has created a book digitization device that is very inexpensive when you compare it to other technology available today. It's BookDrive DIY and it is made by Atiz Innovation.

It is pretty straight forward. It holds two cameras and a book cradle.

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