The Thursday Keynote: Building Open Libraries

by | Nov 10, 2017 | 0 comments


Brewster Kahle

Brewster Kahle

Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian, Founder of the Internet Archive, and developer of the Wayback Machine, said we will need to build the library of the future together. How do we have a complete library of everything in the face of costs, legal issues, rules and regulations? We want many more authors and everyone a reader. The Internet Archive is working with about 500 libraries and is digitizing 3 million books. We have been occupied with pouring ourselves into the web but the average life of a web page is only 100 days. The Internet Archive has been paid to give things away. They buy materials and make them publicly available. If a book is not digital, it is as if it does not even exist.

Here is a graph of the Internet Archive’s collection by publication date.

Internet Archive by Publication Date

And here is some similar data for Amazon.

Amazon Books by Publication Date

In both cases, books published before 1923 are in the public domain. But after that, there is a missing century of books, so the next generation will grow up not knowing much about the 20th century. The Internet Archive is working to provide free digital access to 4 million more books. Many of the missing century books are not available, so they buy what they can and lend it to one user at a time via the Open Library. We want all libraries to make all their collections digital so that users have a choice of taking out the physical or digital book. We can use the collections that we have built and offer something appropriate for the current generation.

The Archive is working with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to pick the 4 million books. They buy electronic publications when they can and digitize the rest. Currently, they are digitizing the back list of the MIT Press. They want 119,000 libraries to participate, which will  a giant step forward. Physical distance is a barrier to access; libraries are in every town in the US but many people cannot get to them. Long-term access to public knowledge is what libraries provide.

We need to buy or digitize books to fill that century of missing knowledge, and we have funding to digitize everything that is donated to us. So libraries can deaccession their materials to the Internet Archive or use local scanning centers at a cost of about $30/book and then send the files to the Internet Archive. We must make the user experience as good as what the publishers are doing and create a delightful reading experience across devices.. Make it easy to read and share. Blind and dyslexic people will benefit a lot from this. We can bring the whole library up for lending to everybody.

We are building interoperable systems with technology partners but will need your help to integrate with your systems and weave the information into the web itself. For example, we could turn all the footnotes in Wikipedia into links and let all journalists reference these materials. Get the information to those looking for answers. It costs $20 to get a book from offsite storage. ILL costs about $35/book, or a total of $300 million a year. What if books were all available electronically? Kahle invited the audience to try to borrow a book from the Internet Archive and see how it works!

Who would benefit from turning all our libraries into open libraries? Our users. Books will find new life. We will be able to provide more equitable access for users and get books more integrated into people’s lives. Libraries will win back space being used for closed stacks and save money. There will be lots of uses as we bring our materials public. Libraries can provide 4 million books to users. Publishers , let us digitize your backlist. ILS Vendors, integrate 4 million eBooks into OPACs. Writers and editors, link your footnotes to eBooks. Readers, suggest books important to you. We can all build this together. If we don’t do it, we will have a generation that will grow up without access to our collections.

Accessibility to all published literature is possible while still protecting the rights of authors, illustrators, designers, and publishers. Lawyers are ruling that digitize and lend is a fair use. If we limit the digital library to only materials out of copyright or those licensed, we will be leaving out most of the materials.  Let’s get there together and get there internationally.



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