domingo, 8 de novembro de 2009

Library digital black hole

Mike Heaney of the Bodleian Library

By Maggie Hartford »

Oxford’s Bodleian Library has seen plenty of change in its 400-year history, but the electronic revolution must be its biggest challenge to date, with pundits forecasting that the days of written material will soon be numbered.

However, computerising books is not as simple as enthusiasts hoped. It has opened up a minefield of legal battles and complex issues which are not easily resolved.
Some people see it as a conflict between the world of commerce and the free dissemination of ideas, while others sympathise with artists and writers who are attempting to stop 'piracy’ of their work on the Internet.

Despite its history, or perhaps because of it, the Bodleian is firmly on the side of the electronic future. It was the first UK library to sign up with Google to allow ‘digitisation’ of its out-of-copyright historic books such as Darwin’s Origin of Species, and now it has joined a nationwide campaign to change the law to allow online content to be archived for future researchers.
As one of Britain’s six ‘copyright’ libraries, the Bodleian is entitled to receive, free of charge, a copy of every book, newspaper and journal published in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. But the powers do not extend to digital material, despite the fact that this was specifically included in the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003, hailed at the time as evidence that Britain was in the forefront of the digital revolution.

Mike Heaney, executive secretary at the Bodleian, said: "At the moment, we are not actually empowered to collect anything, despite the fact that a law was passed in parliament six years ago.

“For instance, Barak Obama won the presidency not least because of a very astute web campaign. You can’t capture any of the aspects of that in the UK.

“In the next election here, how much of the campaign will be conducted online? A lot of the action will happen online — not just the Internet, but Twitter and so on. We will not be able to capture any of that for history.”

Because web pages are so ephemeral, much of that material will be lost for ever, he says. He points out that the Bodleian’s collection of so-called incunabula — books printed during the earliest period of typography — is now worth millions of pounds. “The first few years of the Internet are going to be equally valuable as a resource, and we have lost them,” he said.
At the root of the problem is the issue of copyright, and the way the Internet has allowed ‘pirates’ to easily copy the hard work of researchers and writers as well as film-makers and musicians — and freely disseminate it without paying a penny to the makers.
Google’s legal deal with US publishers to give it the right to digitise millions of books is currently being renegotiated after objections from publishers and authors.

The Bodleian’s five-year-old agreement with Google is quite different. It involves books which are ‘out of copyright’, where the author has been dead for more than 70 years. Two digital copies of each book are created: one for Google, and one for Oxford. The Bodleian sees this as a first step in developing a ‘virtual library’ based on its incomparable physical collections.

However, Mr Heaney is frustrated at the UK’s slow progress on archiving web pages and other online resources for scholars. He is offended at the opposition of ‘media barons’, saying that the Bodleian and other libraries have proved themselves ‘careful custodians’ of copyright for many years.

He agrees with publishers that access to their web archives must be limited to people who personally visit each legal deposit library, and restricted to one reader at a dedicated terminal. But he says problems still need to be ironed out. “At the moment, if one scientist wants to read one physical edition of Nature, another one can read a different printed edition at the same time. We need to have the equivalent electronic access.”

He demonstrated another problem, using a web page of The Oxford Times. “If you save the page, you don’t see the same thing that someone else saw at a different time. There is no simple way of capturing the interactive material.”

On The Oxford Times website, the missing material includes the ‘Most Comments’ listing, which could provide future researchers with information about the public interest in a particular news item.

“It can never be straightforward,” he said. “There are real technical difficulties. I can understand why it has taken so long on some of the aspects, but there is other stuff where it is relatively easy.”
The Bodleian pays publishers for electronic access to scholarly journals, which scientists, in particular, have embraced wholeheartedly, and the library deposit scheme would not affect this, he said. For example, the library is spending an extra £1m on electronic journals to create more physical space when the New Bodleian building on the corner of Broad Street starts its three-year refurbishment in 2011.

Will digitisation mean the end of print as we know it? Mr Heaney thinks not. “I work in a 400-year-old library and I have thousands of books at home. But what matters is information; how that information becomes knowledge and insight.

“What we have here in the library is ingredients; the scholars and researchers are the masterchefs who have the skills to make something worthwhile.

“The electronic and information revolution is so enabling, you can’t help but embrace it. Four hundred years ago, would I have bemoaned the introduction of print? It is wonderful that all this happened in my lifetime. I like manuscripts and printed books, and I love the Internet. It is so empowering.”

Fonte: Witney Gazette

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