November 6, 2009

Library slow to digitize books for Google project

Scanning and digitizing one book costs $60. Scanning and digitizing the University’s 7.7 million printed works would cost $462 million. A price as steep as that makes it easy to understand why the University of Chicago is not leading a digitizing initiative on its own.

The Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), a group made of the U of C and all 11 members of the Big Ten Conference, made a deal with Google in 2007 to digitize the university’s libraries, but the project hasn’t been moving forward at the same lightning-quick speed as Google’s search engine.

Of the 12 member-schools, only two have sent in books. Indiana University has been sending in books since August 2008, while Penn State University has started this year.

“The aim of the CIC-Google collaboration on the Google Books project is to make library resources readily and widely accessible far more rapidly than individual libraries could do [it] on their own,” said Judith Nadler, director of the University of Chicago Library, in an e-mail, but did not comment on when the University would start sending its books to Google.

CIC Director Barbara Allen said the plans call for the University of Chicago to submit its South Asia collection for digitization.

“Library staff decides who moves the books, and which books. Google sends a large truck that fits 60,000 books. It sends them to Google,” Allen said. Each book spends approximately four weeks out of circulation.

Under the Google Books agreement, Google assumes all costs of scanning and shipping to their facilities; the universities just pay the cost of labor. If anything happens to the books in transit or at the facility, the agreement has provisions to compensate for the loss.

As universities drag their feet, Google faces another obstacle: copyright issues.

In October 2008, Google reached a $125-million settlement that will create a new copyright collective. Part of the agreement allows Google the exclusive rights to reprint orphaned books—books under copyright whose authors cannot be contacted—and articles until their authors reclaim them. University libraries tend to hold a significant number of orphaned books, according to an April 4, 2009 article in the New York Times.

Under the settlement, Google would hold the revenues from the ads on orphaned books. Universities participating in the digitization will be given access to the Google archives for some years, after which access will be sold to them.

Nothing in the agreement prohibits the CIC or individual universities from starting other digitization projects.

Despite the legal troubles for Google, the scanning continues, and the CIC is sticking with its agreement.

As technology improves in the near future, the CIC is preparing itself for a digital world. “I love the book. I depend on it as an object,” Allen said, but noted that, “to search and discover information, the digital world is much better.”