I’m all for the underdog including in the realm of technology, and especially if they have a better mousetrap. That’s why I was an early adopter of Firefox over IE. It’s why I like the Open Content Alliance‘s attempt, reported in Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web, to open up the process of digitizing the world’s library collections:
Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies want to place on the new digital collections.
The research libraries, including a large consortium in the Boston area, are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort aimed at making their materials broadly available.
Libraries that agree to work with Google must agree to a set of terms, which include making the material unavailable to other commercial search services. Microsoft places a similar restriction on the books it converts to electronic form. The Open Content Alliance, by contrast, is making the material available to any search service.
OCA was founded by the Internet Archive, one of whose claims to fame is the wondrous Wayback Machine, designed to archive the internet’s web history. OCA’s mission is to open the nation’s library collections to universal web search by digitizing books and making them as widely accessible as possible.
A number of major library systems, including the Boston Public Library and Smithsonian, have refused to sign up with Microsoft and Google because they do not provide for universal access to digitized books. These commercial ventures prohibit books being accessed by competing search engines.
So far, 80 libraries and research institutions (listed here) have signed on with Open Content Alliance. They must pay for the scanning of their books while Google and Microsoft offset that cost for their participating institutions. Kudos to funders like the Alfred Sloan Foundation and any private donors helping this process along by funding the libraries’ scanning costs. I just e mailed OCA to suggest that they place a Donate button on their website since many supporters of this initiative might want to support it philanthropically.