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U. of I. joins group creating
digital book archive accessible to public
Andrea Lynn, Humanities
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
Kruger, right, is the coordinator for digital
content creation at the U. of I. Library.Tim Cole,
the mathematics librarian and interim head of digital
services at the Library, has overseen the development
of Illinois Harvest.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —
The University of Illinois has joined an alliance of educational institutions,
Internet companies and other groups in the U.S. and abroad that is building
a massive digital archive of public domain books for universal and free
In addition to Illinois, other partners in the Open
Content Alliance include Adobe Systems, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, the universities
of California, Chicago and Texas, and Yahoo!
Formed less than two years ago, the non-profit organization –
now some 60 partners strong – announced in December that it already
had digitized and made available 100,000 electronic books in the public
domain, all downloadable through its parent company, the Internet Archive.
Illinois’ Library, with more than 10 million volumes and nearly
24 million items, is the largest public university collection in the
world, and thus, in a position to contribute significantly to this alliance.
“Our partnership with OCA represents a very significant milestone
for our Library, positioning us to share our rich collections much more
easily with people in Illinois and throughout the world,” said
Karen Schmidt, acting university librarian at Illinois.
“We can take our reputation for strong collections and progressive
sharing of these resources to the next level through this digital work.”
On its home page, the OCA features Illinois’ first contribution
to the alliance: 32 digitized books about Abraham
Late last year the U. of I. received nearly $1 million to invigorate
its mass digitization program.
The campus’s provost’s and comptroller’s offices each
contributed $200,000, and the Illinois Legislature added $500,000 in
an initiative led by Rep. Naomi D. Jakobsson.
The Legislature’s funding will support Illinois’ OCA projects,
cover staffing costs and the purchase of a server to hold all the new
digital content, said Betsy Kruger, who is the coordinator for digital
content creation at the U. of I. Library.
The campus funding is supporting the development of the Illinois Harvest
Portal, an innovative digital gateway for the Library, as well as funding
multiple Illinois-related digital projects that will be done either
in-house or by vendors.
According to Kruger, who is directing the Library’s large-scale
digitization program, Illinois will focus on four areas of digitization
for the OCA this year: Illinois history, culture and natural resources;
U.S. railroad history; rural studies and agriculture; and “a limited
amount of content in areas proposed by some of our faculty.”
By year’s end, Illinois will have digitized and uploaded to OCA
about 6,000 volumes – all of them in the public domain.
The digital content that the Library creates as an OCA participant will
not only be available through the Library’s online catalog and
the Illinois Harvest Portal, but also will be “freely available
to all for the purposes of viewing, reading and downloading from the
Internet Archive’s Web site,” Kruger said. “This commitment
to open access is the hallmark of the Open Content Alliance initiative.”
The digitization will be done at Illinois’ new OCA Scanning Center
in the Library’s Oak Street High Density Shelving Facility. In
late January, Internet Archive staff from San Francisco delivered and
set up two giant “Scribe” scanners.
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
with black canvas, the scanners look something
like oversized beach cabanas. Books are perched
in a V-shaped holder, while two digital cameras
above them photograph the pages – at super-high
resolution for about 10 cents per page. A technician
turns the pages and maintains the cameras.
The scanners will
be “devoted solely to our OCA projects for the
year – and, we hope, longer,” Kruger said. “We are
seeking funding to continue using them.”
Draped with black canvas, the scanners look something like oversized
beach cabanas. Books are perched in a V-shaped holder, while two digital
cameras above them photograph the pages – at super-high resolution
for about 10 cents per page. A technician turns the pages and maintains
Kruger said that the scanners are non-invasive, so books can be scanned
without having to separate pages from bindings. Staff hired and trained
by the Internet Archive will use “some very fancy software,”
she said, to turn the scanning into digitized content.
Some Illinois faculty members will be early beneficiaries of the OCA
partnership, having already requested digitization projects that will
support their teaching and research:
• Douglas Kibbee, a professor of French and of linguistics,
has asked the Library to digitize works of literature in various languages,
most published in the 19th century, which also have been translated
into English during the same period. This will give him “several
hundred matched sets of works, which ultimately will be used to support
the translation studies program we are in the process of developing
here on campus.”
Kruger estimates that 500 to 800 works in translation will be digitized
in the first year as part of the OCA project.
• Vernon Burton, a U.S. social historian, has requested that the
library digitize a series of city directories from East St. Louis in
the early 1900s, which will allow for direct analysis of how racial,
marital and occupational status affected the composition of different
neighborhoods in different years.
The directories “will allow us to explore how a specific event
– whether it be the 1896 tornado or the 1917 race riot –
affected population dynamics within the city.”
• Peter Nardulli, a political scientist,
has asked for several government publications, including the “CIA World Fact Book,”
to be digitized for work he is doing at the campus’s Center for
the Study of Democratic Governance.
• Bryan Heidorn, a U. of I. professor of library
and information science, has arranged for Illinois to digitize
the zoology and botany sections of the Chicago Field Museum’s “Fieldiana”
series as part of its OCA work.
The U. of I. has been involved in small-scale digitization of its collections
since 1994. Among already digitized materials are its renowned 1,000-volume
German “Emblem Books” Collection, its Vachel Lindsay Collection
and its James B. Reston Papers. These and many other digitization projects
eventually will be “housed” together, digitally speaking.
“Virtually all the content we digitize – whether through
OCA, outsourcing to other vendors or done in-house – should eventually
be findable via our Illinois Harvest Portal,” Kruger said. The
IHP is “an important avenue through which all the digital content
we are creating this year, as well as content about Illinois that has
been created at other institutions, will be discoverable and searchable,”
According to Schmidt, “the beauty of Illinois Harvest is that
we can weave together all kinds of disparate collections in one search.
The Illinois Harvest program represents our own intellectual work,
providing access to everyone.”
Tim Cole, the mathematics librarian and interim head of digital services
at the Library, has overseen the development of Illinois Harvest.
The IH Portal will provide “integrated access to a diverse range
of scholarly digital resources, including books digitized this year
as part of the large-scale digitization initiative and our collaboration
with the OCA,” Cole said.
Other items headed for the IH Portal: materials digitized as part of
Illinois’ brittle book preservation program; the content of the
State Library’s Illinois Digital Archive; scholarly digital resources
about Illinois from other universities in Illinois and the Committee
on Institutional Cooperation; and journal articles by U. of I. faculty
“As of January of this year, the early prototype portal already
indexes 45 collections composed of more than 13,000 individual items,”
Cole said, adding that he hopes the portal will become publicly accessible
Cole said that in organizing digital resources and providing context
for the scholarly use of these resources, “The portal leverages
the traditional cataloging and information-organizing strengths of
the University Library to provide a stable foundation for digital-based
scholarship and instruction. The work will enable Illinois to keep
pace with peer institutions in other states as a leader in providing
digital-based library service.”
To view some of Illinois’ digitized materials go to the Library’s
prototype Illinois Harvest Portal.