Is it worth it?

Hello fair readers!

Today I stumbled upon a library-centric article that is most interesting. Instead of reposting this lengthy piece here….let me summarize for you. 🙂

So the headline is as follows:

Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web

And there is a nice little picture of people scanning books….

So the article goes on to say that several major libraries have refused to digitize their books with either Google or Microsoft. Instead they are turning to a non profit open access organization for digitization called Open Content Alliance. The major issues at stake for libraries like Boston Public Library and the Smithsonian are the restrictions placed by Google and Microsoft. If you have your collection scanned with either of these major organizations then you can only view the books through the corresponding search engines and databases. In contrast the non-profit will make the items viewable through all search venues.

So here’s a couple things about this article that made me stop and think “hmm”. First, if you digitize through Google or Microsoft, yes they have some definite restrictions. But they are also free. Yes that’s right. Free. Google, for example, actually pays to have the books scanned for you and then they don’t even profit off of the books. That seems to be morally acceptable to me.

In contrast the nonprofit charges around $30 a book.

Ouch.

For large libraries with literally millions of books in their collection, that could be a steep price to pay for open access.

And yet, the following quote is an important critical observation.

“Even though Google’s program could make millions of books available to hundreds of millions of Internet users for the first time, some libraries and researchers worry that if any one company comes to dominate the digital conversion of these works, it could exploit that dominance for commercial gain.”

Still look at the wording. “Make millions of books available to hundreds of millions of Internet users” Hundreds of millions.

Statements like that make think about what exactly we librarians are sacrificing to push forward the open access movement. Because if we are reaching less people and instead making our collections less accessible to users, isn’t that opposite to our mission and ethics?

Honestly I do not have the answer to these questions. But it certainly makes me wonder, is open access worth it? Or are librarians clinging to yet another dying tech movement that will move us backwards instead of forwards.

I would love to hear my peers opinions. And have a lovely Autumn-y Monday.

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